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Think twice before criticising a pharmacist's locum rate

"I would have taken any work, no matter what the rate was"

C+D's clinical editor draws on his personal experience to explain why we shouldn't always blame locums for taking low-paid shifts

I recently wrote an article about locum rates, and the extent to which they vary across the UK. As expected, it sparked a heated debate on the issue on social media.

Pharmacists complained about the low rates, and some even chastised those who would take them. After all, it was individuals’ willingness to undercut their fellow pharmacists that was cited in my feature as the reason why the sector can’t agree on a base level of pay. Despite this, I still think we should careful before criticising locums based on the rates they will work for.

So what locum rates do I think are acceptable? The following story explains my stance.

After working as a community pharmacist following my graduation, I moved to Edinburgh to begin a master’s degree. I had saved a bit of money as a pharmacist, but this was a finite amount, and I soon found that high university tuition fees, expensive rent and my love of avocado on toast were putting me out of pocket. So I put myself to the task of finding steady employment.

I had moved to Scotland – which due do its government’s vocal support for pharmacy and range of national services I had always considered to be a ‘land of plenty’. I therefore thought I would be able to easily find locum roles to keep myself afloat. However, this stream of well-paid work never materialised. Every pharmacy door I knocked on already had a pharmacist who worked evening and weekends. Because of my university classes, I couldn’t work weekdays.

I would have taken any work, no matter what the rate was – simply because I was desperate. With every failed attempt my anxiety grew – and my nest egg further depleted.

One day, I was walking home when I passed a hiring sign in the window of a Subway fast-food chain. As I had worked in another branch of the franchise in my younger days, I almost walked in to apply. It was only the thought of donning once again the regulation-issue apron and baseball cap that had me quickly turning on my heels.

I persevered a few weeks longer and eventually found regular, well-paid locum work. This led to more shifts and sustained me during my master’s degree.

However, the point still stands – I would have worked for almost any rate. I knew work would beget more work and my priority was a steady income, rather than a well-paid shift. In my desperation, I had even considered resuming my abandoned career as a Subway sandwich artist.

As a pharmacist, I agree our unique skills and responsibilities should be reflected in our pay. That being said, I don’t think we have the right to criticise another person for the rates they accept.

It’s great when we have the luxury of turning down shifts in favour of a higher rate. But we don’t always know an individual’s circumstances and – as such – we should be wary before condemning them.

Kristoffer Stewart is CPD and clinical editor of C+D, as well as a locum community pharmacist. Email him at [email protected] or contact him on Twitter @CandDKristoffer

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Amal England, Public Relations

I don't think we should criticise the locum for taking on work at a particular rate, but we should criticise all pharmacists for failing to take proportionate action against this destruction of a profession. Pharmacists need to stand up and take decisive action and take back control of the direction of the profession. Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt, the banking sector, etc, they are 'financially set for life' because they took action to get their way. Have pharmacists taken similar action- no where near enough.

Del Boy, GP

If we really understand economics, we know wages shouldn't be just down to market forces because the pharmacy market is a highly regulated market.

Chris Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

I think too many posters don't understand market forces. It doesn't matter how responsible, technical or important a job is as if there is an oversupply of people able to do the role then employers will be able to get away with offering lower rates of pay.

Until schools of Pharmacy significantly reduce intakes or close down then rates will continue to fall, there is no doubt about this. There is no floor to pharmacy rates of remuneration (until the legal NMW of course). The choice is simple,accept what is offered or find alternative means of employment.

Pharmacy Career, Design

Also as pharmacies are also now short staffed and pharmacists find themselves taking on more roles such as constant dispensing, scanning shopping through the till on top of the work they already have  etc on a regular basis, I think they should be getting paid for covering a missing member of staff too 

Draye To, Community pharmacist

Hi guys, As pharmacists we must also seek alternative ways to better ourselves, this may be through alternative careers. If you are not happy working in place either because of the rates or working environment then please do not continue to force yourself. There is research which shows that working in a place as a healthcare professional where you are not happy increases the chance of making a mistake. Remember your happiness is all that matters - do not spend majority of your life unhappy. You will never be able to recoup that time.


Pharmacy Career, Design

So you are saying you were desperate but you cannot allow these companies to exploit your desperation. Accepting low rates just gives pharmacies more opportunity to take advantage. Look at their profits despite cuts -to them you are just another factor in cutting cost if you allow it. You really need to know your worth

Desmond Nugent, Community pharmacist

The locums are not too blame. For many it is just a survival game. It is the rich amd corrupt universities that are too blame. Queens university know what the locum rates for pharmacists are in N. Ireland (13 Pounds plus on average) and yet they continue to take in new students to study pharmacy. It is the height of irresponsibility and immorality. Could you imagine university lecturers working for 13 pounds an hour, as it is they can disappear for three months in the Summer on full pay without a care in the world and their graduates have to work at  making ends meet on minimum or close to minimum wage rates. It is time some of these institutions were black listed  and new prospective students simply refusing to go to them. It may not change things automatically, but it would be a start. It is time universities image of helping students and always being there for students is challenged because it is simply not true. Producing more graduates to an already oversupplied labour market is an abrogation of responsibility. It simply will not do. The universities will quickly get the message if students start voting with their feet.

Muhammad Siddiqur Rahman, Primary care pharmacist

I strongly disagree with this authors article and found it disappointing that the same author who backed the locums petition against rate cuts against Tesco last year has now changed his tune justifying himself and others why it's acceptable to accept subway rates to make a living. Surely it's common sense that once locums are happy to work at £15/hr or less, it will set a precedent and that is to the detriment of the pharmacy profession as employers  will now rub their hands with glee especially in the face of ongoing pharmacy cuts. The comments section in this article is now being divided between employers/managers and locums. Well done Kristoffer and C&D for inflaming this situation further and causing resentment between locums and employers and dividing the pharmacy profession.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

I think you (and most other people on here) are misinterpreting this artice. He isn't saying that he's 'happy' working for lousy rates. It's a choice between work (and some money) or no work (and no money). When it's expressed like that it is no choice at all. Are you saying that he should decide to write off the four years to get the degree and work making sandwiches instead?? The fault here lies with employers and schools of pharmacy. The worth of an individual pharmacist is no less now than it was twenty odd years ago when I started but what has changed is that there are now many more of us so the employers are able to cut rates knowing that they basically have us by the balls and if we want to be able to pay our mortgage we have to lump it. I have been critical of locums accepting lower rates before on these pages but I know from personal experience that sometimes you have no choice. If there is any fault to be apportioned to pharmacists as a whole is that we will NEVER all pull in the same direction and hold the employers to ransom for a change.

Tohidul Islam, Locum pharmacist

So, the moral of the story is don't develop a taste for avocado sandwich. Another way to look at it is sort out your finances. Don't just make a move and expect it to all work out. If you have to work for subway rates just do us all a favour and work in subway. Trust me you'll be doing yourself a favour too by not being an embarrassment to the profession.

We hear too often you need to work for your money like the "rest of the team". Well let me pose this question. Which other member of the team is legally responsible? Spent 5 years in uni and came out with 40k debt? Will possibly face prison time if an error happens? While you're scratching your head and trying figure out the answer try to understand that the market is heavily manipulated. Also the more Locum rates go down the more government will claw back. So all those contractors who almost always seem to know one "lazy locum" and like to paint all of us with the same brush I hope you sit down and have long hard look at what's facing you.

A base rate is essential for the survival of the sector. We have pharmacists leaving the profession because the reward is not worth the headache. If we lose highly experienced pharmacists from the profession at this rate then all you'll have are the monkies and then I suppose you can really pay them what you like. Anyone with intelligence will know it's not worth facing prison sentence for £15/hr. So please Kristoff if you want to help the profession then at the very least try look at market manipulation and how bad the psnc has been at negotiating on behalf of contractors. If the universities are in the business of churning out pharmacists of any grade as long as they can make money then maybe look at that before criticising base rates.
For any locums who want a fairer rate and any contractors who want quality locums look up The Locum Pharmacists Cooperative on Facebook.

A M, Locum pharmacist

Completely disagree with the author, that kind of attitude is exactly what has driven locum rates as low as it currently is. That attitude is what contractors and coordinators exploit to pit locums against each other for lower and lower rates. If locums continue with this way of thinking, it won't be long before we earn as much as people working at Subway. Was it worth it for the short term gain? Think long term, stand your ground and refuse to work for less than a minimum base rate.

Sham Kiani, Community pharmacist

I totally disagree with the author of this article.

The writer may well have got his finances sorted by taking low paid shifts but he would have undercut other professional colleagues possibly resulting in them not being able to pay their bills or mortgage and starting a cycle of undercutting.

does not matter how you sugar coat it, undercutting is just pure wrong.

It would have been better that he took a job at subway, rather than undercut and disturb the job market for other professionals who rely on that income.


I agree that a pharmacist should be employed on merit, choose the best locum, not the cheapest locum!

A Rashid, Locum pharmacist

Definitely agree with article. Depending on where you live and how far you are willing to travel will dictate the amount of work you get. And unfortunately if you have limitations you'll be happy with anything over £15. I have have had no work for past 3/4 months to the point where I have been ashamed and thought about seeking job seekers. Permanent community jobs in my area part time are non existent vs London. MPharm being my second degree means I have wasted 10 yrs of my life to work in one of the most isolating and underpaid careers (community pharmacy).

Seal Patel, Community pharmacist

I dont think being a pharmacists or having a MPharm means you should have a min rate of pay. Ive come across many a lazy pharmacist who believe they have a right to a wage regardless of their quality. The "ill leave it to tomorrow for someone else" mentality is rife in our industry. 

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

And so is the manager 'I'll leave that for the locum tomorrow to sort out' mentality.

Dhanvir Johal, Locum pharmacist

The point is this kind of mentality ruins it for the hard working locums too.

Lynn Blake, Manager

As a non pharmacist Pharmacy Manager I couldn't agree more with this comment. If you want the reward you have to put in the work just like the rest of the (lower paid) team!

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Without the pharmacist there IS no team. Just remember that.

William Lee, Locum pharmacist

So you are suggesting one should to go through 5 years of training to become a pharmacist, having to take overall risk and responsibility daily in the workplace only to accept a wage that is ever falling and constantly behind the rate of inflation, leading to an ever decreasing standard of living? 

Bear in mind that 5 years of training means 4 years of putting in lots of work without earning at university plus an intensive year-long pre-registration placement. Let's not forget to factor in the cost of tuition and expenses.

On another note, if a pharmacist messes up he or she could potentially be struck off and lose their career. If a "lower paid team" member messes up, worst they get is a slap on the wrist?

I have shown you the pharmacist side of the discussion. You'd be best to include some points to back up your opinion instead of just throwing it out there. Care to elaborate?

Dhanvir Johal, Locum pharmacist

The 'lower paid team' that chose not to go to university to get better paid? The 'lower paid team' that shares the workload that a pharmacist ultimately checks single-handedly? Whilst being responsible for the 'lower paid team's' errors? 

Ilove Pharmacy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

Community Pharmacy becomes more pitiful by the day. Minimum wage is around the corner. The worst is still to come. The multiples and contractors, ultimately,  will continue to bully and exploit because you let them.

At least junior doctors had the **lls to strike for more money even though they had to pretend it was a patient safety concern. Those comuunity pharmacists that have paid/or nearly paid their mortgage are very fortunate. They'll be exiting as the S**t really hits the fan. 

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

I thought entering the profession 30 years ago was one of the greatest days in my life. I was wrong. Leaving a decimated and gutted (community sector) profession is soon to become my great achievement in life...

, Superintendent Pharmacist

Base rate for  pharmacists has to be minimum rate. They are nothing but graduate shop assistants. If you accept peanuts, you may be a monkey.  A professional would charge at least £40 an hour. Employers screw employees and the government then says "oh locum pay is £15 an hour, we will fund on this basis".
Self defeating attitude.  Pay £40/hour and the government will have to fund at this rate. Learn from doctors.

Arun Bains, Community pharmacist

Couldn't agree more... don't join the multiple's race to the bottom.

These guys post billions in profits when we get ever increasing cuts in rates.

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