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Pharmacy's feeling the pinch

If you are an employee pharmacist and have received a pay rise in the past 12 months, count yourself lucky, writes Jennifer Richardson. And be thankful you're not a contractor or locum

If you are an employee pharmacist and have received a pay rise in the past 12 months, count yourself lucky – because you are in the minority for the first time in the five years C+D has been running its Salary Survey.

But the vast majority of those less lucky employee pharmacists who haven't had a rise can at least breathe a sigh of relief they haven't had to take a cut – because the same cannot be said for their contractor and locum peers.

‘Be your own boss' is the dreamy phrase often used by glossy magazines to headline pictures of beautiful people ‘working' from golden-sand beaches.

But the 2012 Salary Survey – a huge thank you to the almost 2,000 respondents – suggests that being your own boss, from a financial perspective in the world of community pharmacy at least, is not all it's cracked up to be.

Locum rates fell across the UK, with representatives quick to point out that it was now an employers' market, and almost six in every 10 contractors saw a drop in their personal incomes from their pharmacy businesses.

The C+D Salary Survey 2012 suggests that being your own boss is not all it's cracked up to be

Of course, community pharmacists aren't the only ones feeling the pinch – we're in a double-dip recession (or just coming out of one, if you believe the latest reports). But pharmacists' concerns are centred on issues more unique to the sector – with none bigger than the robustness of the pharmacy contract. (In fact, contract-bashing has become such a popular sport in England, it's a real surprise contractors did not consider its deficiencies one of the top three threats to their businesses)

Pharmacists in England continue to call for a complete contract overhaul, but PSNC chief executive Sue Sharpe argues that what they really want is closer to a straightforward uplift in funding. But surely the simple truth is that the government is never going to – can't, even, in the current economic climate – agree to the latter, which from its perspective amounts to paying more for a service it is already getting.

Yet you can hardly argue with Ms Sharpe's assertion that contract changes amounting to a more fundamental transformation of pharmacists' role need to be manageable. And yet again, the debate over 28-day prescribing is just one illustration of how provider funding needs to be better aligned with patient outcomes.

So what's needed is a broader and, most importantly, clearly communicated vision for the development of the contract beyond just this year's funding settlement. It needs long-term goals, with a clear plan of how to reach them, including how pharmacists will be incentivised to make the interim steps needed.

Only then can the sector's perennial Catch 22 – needing to show willingness to develop in order to gain funding, yet needing funding to develop the willingness to change – be broken.

Jennifer Richardson, Editor [email protected], @CandDJennifer


For more results, comment and news from the Salary Survey 2012 as well as tools including a salary calculator, wheel of blame, interactive map and employed/locum comparison calculator and much more click here

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