Despite there being less demand for locums last year, when they did get shifts more was asked of them. In the circumstances, that was to be expected. Money was tight for pharmacy owners and there was a lot of work to be done. The C+D Salary Survey 2020 showed that 85% of 180 locum respondents said their workload increased in the 12 months leading to October 2020, while 68% reported high stress levels.
One locum colleague told me recently: “The experience of working as a pharmacist during lockdown was simply like no other; patients felt the pharmacy was their first point of contact for their healthcare needs.
“[I was] helping patients perform the COVID-19 home test over the phone, explaining misconceptions about COVID-19 treatments, and offering support to those struggling with mental health during this difficult time.” Of course, that was combined with an even higher demand for prescription medicines.
It was surprising, then, that in 2020 stress levels had actually dropped by seven percentage points among the locums surveyed since 2019, when 75% of respondents said their stress levels were high. Maybe this was down to the feeling of camaraderie and sense of duty that came from the pandemic.
Whatever the cause for the drop, those stress levels remain too high. Our industry is not an easy one to work in, we all know that. And last year was exceptional.
But I have been thinking a lot about this and I believe there are ways to reduce pharmacy stress based purely on organisational efficiency. For example, it would reduce stress on pharmacists if more dispensing tasks were delegated to pharmacy technicians.
A pharmacist still needs to supervise a pharmacy, but if the majority of the manual labour of putting boxes in bags is done by pharmacy technicians, then pharmacists will be freer to attend to the other needs of patients.
This is increasingly important, too. This year we saw a record uptake of the flu jab – according to Public Health England, 80% of over-65s had received their jab this season by January 7. Many of those flu vaccinations were administered in community pharmacies.
With the potential for COVID-19 vaccines to be administered in pharmacies and the increasing reliance on services for profit, it has never been more important to streamline dispensing services.
I feel that highly skilled locums have a big part to play in helping with vaccine provision, too. As a C+D reported in Jan, 93% of locums would be willing to take part in the rollout.
For pharmacists, putting more locums to work in service provision could also help with stress. If pharmacists feel they are putting the skills they learned during their university studies to good use, rather than being holed up in the back of the shop sorting through medication boxes, they will achieve a greater sense of job satisfaction.
A greater use of locums for service provision would provide more regular shifts for locums, overcoming the underutilisation issues that we saw in 2020.
As an industry, I believe we are well positioned to learn the lessons from last year and overcome whatever challenges 2021 has in store.
Reece Samani is CEO of locum booking platform The Locum App
The C+D Salary Survey 2020 – the largest UK survey of community pharmacy – ran between October 19 and December 10 and was completed by a total of 1,667 pharmacists and pharmacy staff. C+D's ongoing coverage from the survey can be found on our dedicated hub.