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‘What the UK is losing as pharmacists leave the country after Brexit’

"The loss of 333 EEA pharmacists means countless fewer multilingual interactions with patients"

Community pharmacy in the UK will be poorer if the flight of European pharmacists continues in the wake of Brexit, argues Thomas Cox

Over the last two years, the number of community pharmacists on the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) register who trained in the European Economic Area (EEA) dropped 9% – from 3,652 to 3,319. I would argue these 333 departures run contrary to the commendable ethos of diversity in community pharmacy, which creates spaces approachable for patients of any background.

There are enough pharmacists for now. The exodus seen in other healthcare areas – such as nursing and midwifery, where 2,909 EEA professionals (8% of the total) left in the year up to March 2018 – has not yet been reflected in community pharmacy. Company Chemists’ Association chief executive Malcolm Harrison’s warning of a future shortfall of pharmacists will probably only lead to a bump in hourly locum rates.

But every European pharmacist who leaves the UK will be a loss to the commendable diversity of the region’s pharmacies. Having non-British pharmacists in pharmacies makes for a more reassuring environment for non-British patients. Hearing and seeing pharmacists from other European cultures encourages European patients – there are, after all, approximately 3.8 million Europeans in the UK – to come forward with their health issues. This surely helps to strengthen patient-pharmacist relationships, leading to better patient care.

It is always helpful to have someone who speaks other languages in a pharmacy. It is valuable for a pharmacist to be able to explain to Romanian patients how to take their medicines, for example, in their mother tongue, and there are hundreds of Romanian pharmacists in the UK. But the loss of 333 pharmacists from the EEA since November 2016 means countless fewer multilingual interactions with patients.

Working with staff from different backgrounds can boost creativity. Interacting with staff who have worked in pharmacies in Warsaw, Nice, Milan or elsewhere can bring different ideas. At a time when health secretary Matt Hancock is praising the "French model" of pharmacy, surely we want to retain pharmacists with first-hand experience of how this model works?

The doubt Brexit has cast in the minds of thousands of European healthcare workers in the UK is one of the most destructive side effects of the prevailing political uncertainty. French contractor Olivier Picard told me he has staff in his three Berkshire pharmacies from Poland and France. But Mr Picard also told me he feels less at home in the UK since the Brexit vote, despite residing here for over a decade. He is not alone. Many are questioning whether they should “Leave” too.

Of course, pharmacists are not to be blamed if they wish to leave. But the UK leaving the EU should not mean pharmacists need to evacuate. Pharmacy should remember that Britain will always be part of Europe geographically. Having European pharmacists in our pharmacies can offer the UK an example of what a strong community can look like after Brexit.

Thomas Cox is senior reporter at C+D, tweet him @CandDThomas


Not-So-Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

There are only two things I can say about this.

1. Every EU pharmacist I have ever come across has been unfailingly an excellent pharmacist

2. Once all the multiples went to the EU to recruit, my wages as a locum fell by £100 per day.

Roger Kramer, Senior Management

With the drop in premises numbers the loss of thes EEA pharmacists should be offset by pharmacists released from closed pharmacies.

Interleukin -2, Community pharmacist

This tone ...European and British pharmacist ... is exactly why we re in this brexit mess and is exactly why they are leaving . The idea that Romanians can't speak English and therefore should be better seen by fellow Romanian speaking pharmacists wreaks of something fetid even if unintended . The truth is the current political clime has become too hostile to foreigners and I can't say I blame anyone who heads off east 

Keith Howell, Primary care pharmacist

The sad truth is that racism exists all over the world. But compared to many parts, the UK is tolerant and embracing of other cultures. And all the richer for it. There is a fine line between patriotism and racism but the two are not synonymous. I would like to think that most people that voted for Brexit are patriotic rather than racist. Unfortunately, those with racist attitudes would use Brexit to serve their own agenda...

Interleukin -2, Community pharmacist

I personally dont think its racism. We shouldnt always jump to call out racism whenever issues of foreigners arise. Other xenophobic instincts exist, maybe not as extreme as racism, but equally desctructive and ignorant, such the implicit bias behind the statement that ALL romanian immigrants need romanian speaking pharmacists to access the quality care on offer in our community pharmacies

Keith Howell, Primary care pharmacist

The article points to the benefits of having "non-British pharmacists in pharmacies for a more reassuring environment for non-British patients". Applying this logic, the majority of patients (British) will benefit most from a British pharmacist...

geoffrey gardener, Community pharmacist

We done want diversity, we want a well trained workforce that is able to communicate well with the population they serve. I have worked with many foreign pharmacists of varying degrees of competence, some of whom can barely communicate with fellow healthcare workers, never mind the Great British working public.  The staggering fall in locum rates over the past decade is largely down to the East European influx, and it must be heartbreaking to a UK qualified pharmacist who has run uptens of thousands of pounds in student debt, to be priced out of the market by some foreigner making three of four times what he/she would make at home and have no student loan to worry about. Sooner we are out the better.



Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

I couldn't agree more.There are far too many foreigners in the pharmacy workforce,many can hardly speak the language nor read a prescription properly never mind communicate with patients.Patients do not like this and it can only be a benefit if there are fewer of them.When I display my certificate each day in the many pharmacies in which I work,I am reminded how we have been taken over, as there are approximately two responsible pharmacist notices belonging to English names to about ten or more of foreign descent.

In addition to this rates have plummeted and we are now paid a meagre  wage.hardly befitting of our professional status.The statement in the article that "a future shortfall of pharmacists will probably only lead to a bump in hourly locum rates"is reason enough to have fewer of them.


R A, Community pharmacist

Wrong! It's because of the shift from community pharmacy of being independent orientated to multiple dominated. This means by laws of capitalism large companies will always try to pay the least to make more profit.

If anything the number of new pharmacy schools opening up doesn't help the situation mix that in with the fact that you can buy GSL meds in non-pharmacy setting and we can't do non-extemporaneous preparation this sector is doomed.

Please don't blame it on EU pharmacists. FYI I am a UK born and qualified pharmacist. 

R T, Manager

Why blame uk pharmacy schools? 

or the increase in students in British Pharmacy schools?


Dont say you can blame this increase in british pharmacy students/schools but dare not blame the increase in EEA pharmacists studying abroad but migrating to work in UK.


This article is extremely biased. over 1 in 2 (statistically speaking) pharmacists voted leave so just bare that in mind

many were shocked when Duncan Rudkin announced he still would allow free movement of pharmacists from various parts of europe to the UK. 


Many of us (like myself) have come from low socio economic groups, grew up in council estates and were promised that if we worked hard and studied we would be successful.

And we've been put aside while senior pharmacists move into more directorial or regulatory roles (presominantly those of caucasian descent) while BAME pharmacists have been swept aside and little opportunities than their 'apparent' counterparts. And for those who now occupy those roles like directors or chief pharmacists, it benefits them (i.e. the GPhC and multiples) that there are more and more EEA pharmacists who are willing to accept lower pay.

Lets have some unbiased discussion rather than having articles purely one sided on this debate. Look at the 'thumbs up' on the above comments, clearly there are pharmacists who don't agree with the one sided view presented by this article.

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