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'I hope I won't go to sleep knowing I can’t pay my wholesalers again'

"While hoping to hear solutions to my funding problems, I had actually caused myself more"

C+D blogger The Contractor navigates through difficult times as a pharmacy owner

When I was choosing a career path, I knew it was going to be health-related. However, I was 101% sure it wouldn’t be as a doctor. The thought of dissecting dead bodies sent shivers down my spine and I didn’t want to deal with live exposed bodies and blood either.

I was happily enjoying my years as a non-human-touching ‘chemist’ – and then my worst nightmare began: vaccinations. Now, I’m not a baby of any sorts. I happily stick my arm out to let someone inject me – but sticking a needle in someone else is another matter. It’s the piercing of skin, and the fact they may react. I feel like a nervous student in a practical. It’s horrible to me, yet all my colleagues chirp on about how easy and brilliant it is. Dozens of injections later, they still aren’t my thing.

Recently, after I’d closed the pharmacy, I settled down to listen to a Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee webinar in my office. But I went home, rather depressed, after only an hour of the webinar and couldn’t bear to listen to the hapless questions from the listeners.

The next morning, I had two missed calls from my pharmacy manager and the most dreadful text ever: ‘Who switched off the fridge?!!!’ She added half a dozen crying emojis for extra impact – pretty much reflecting my own face.

It dawned on me, at that chilling moment, that I had inadvertently switched off the fridge instead of the heater, while concentrating on the webinar. While hoping to hear solutions to my funding woes, I had actually caused myself more cashflow problems.

But every cloud has a silver lining; I had destroyed our final stock of injections, which at least meant no more vaccinations. I smiled on the inside.

Another thing I dread is when the FP34 is published online and I can see what we have been paid – a nerve-wracking time of the month for pharmacy contractors. I quite often log in tentatively in the middle of the night, hoping ‘the site is down for maintenance’ – so I won’t have to try and sleep knowing I can’t pay my wholesalers – again.

If you’ve never seen a payment schedule, I suggest you ask to see one. It’s the most mind-boggling piece of paperwork since the 11-plus exam – except the answers are there ‘somewhere’.

I scan the top to see the main figure, then I look at the fees and cry silently on the inside, knowing I’m doomed. Then there are the ‘switches’ – or unsigned scripts. Every time a prescription is unsigned, we lose £8.80 per item. I remember a dreadful period, where for two months in a row, each of my pharmacies lost over £1,000.

Our main dispenser had left, and I assumed (stupidly) other staff were checking the backs of the scripts. Evidently, they were not. Years ago, a lovely lady from what used to be called the Pricing Authority would ring us from the local depot, and ask us to confirm any exemptions.

Now you can beg, plead, offer a limb, but they’ll take the fee regardless. I still don’t understand how we have some switches left at the end of the month – even after at least three of us have checked them. It’s a mystery.

The only respite we have had is in the months when we have received our quality payments; I’m known to be somewhat jovial during these times. In actual fact though, the payment we receive is what was the average for a 5,000-item pharmacy – before the cuts anyway. Now, I need to report myself for getting paid below the minimum wage. Who do I contact?

The Contractor is an independent pharmacy owner in England


Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

I'm the exact opposite to The Contractor. Can't stand needles being stuck into me, love sticking them into other people. Probably says a lot about me as a person.......

Charles Whitfield Bott, Pharmacist Director

As a contractor I would ask why the RPSGB is so resistant to real time exemption checking? I will stop script switches.

Secondly you can not afford not to do flu vacs, you should have done hundreds each season and be in the thousands by now.

And finally I have my fridge hard wired to the mains so that it can not be unplugged by mistake, although it still has a switch which has tape over it!!

NIRMAL BAJARIA, Superintendent Pharmacist

Couldn't agree more  Contractor. 


Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

Ms Contractor :-)

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Mx Contractor - don't you go assuming people's genders now, you'll get thrown off the register and thrown in prison for less!

NIRMAL BAJARIA, Superintendent Pharmacist

Oops sorry Leonie..I mean Leon

Lucky Ex-Boots Slave, Primary care pharmacist

Getting out of community and getting into primary care is the future and the one and only way for those in community sector. Don't forget the newly announced nhs long term plan is yet another funding cut said in a good way. 

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Indeed, it talks about using Pharmacists, but makes little reassurances about pharmacies, and in there I suspect lies the future ahead.

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