Work, play and live. It sounds simple enough, right? But what if you’re a locum pharmacist with a young family, a mortgage and aspirations to try something new, yet your only option is to work, work and live?
Since I qualified in 2005, I have seen many changes in community pharmacy. Over the past 14 years the workload has only increased, while staffing levels, wages and morale have decreased.
Over the last couple of years, the workload has increased significantly for locums and employee pharmacists alike. Locums are expected to fill the shoes of the contract pharmacist and offer the same level of service.
A reduction in staffing levels across pharmacies has also had an impact on locum workload as we are expected to serve at the counter, answer queries, check prescriptions, and answer the phone. The list goes on.
This is in addition to the increasing presence of inexperienced pharmacy staff, caused by a high staff turnover rate, for reasons such as growing workplace pressures and low pay. This has led to pharmacists having to deal with the most basic over-the-counter queries, which trained pharmacy staff could usually handle.
On top of this, there is the rising pressure for locums to have additional qualifications and training such as Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education modules for the Pharmacy Quality Scheme, the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, flu jab training, summary care records, safeguarding, and sepsis. Locums are expected to drive business and offer services while increasing sales to create profit.
It's not all doom and gloom, however. Over the past year or two my pay has increased, and it seems locums around the country are experiencing the same. However, once you take inflation into account, it’s not by much. For example, if a locum was paid £25 an hour in 2005, then according to the Bank of England inflation calculator that's equivalent to £36.67 in 2018.
To achieve slightly fairer remuneration, locums are having to negotiate hard. We often find ourselves at the receiving end of some very rude behaviour from coordinators and threats of being blacklisted or reported to the General Pharmaceutical Council. Some [locum bookers] even go as far as to say we will be held responsible if patients can't get access to their medication, because we refuse their rate.
Although negotiating higher rates has been a hard battle to win, I take comfort in the fact that awareness of poor working conditions and fair remuneration among locums is increasing. I hope locums and employed pharmacists can unite to achieve a good workplace environment and fairer pay.
If multiples and independents want to improve services, drive their business forward and grow profit then they will need to work with locum pharmacists. The best investment a business can make is in their staff. If that doesn't happen, the sector will see many more closures.
Tohidul Islam is a locum pharmacist based in Manchester, and founder of social network The Pharmacist Cooperative
The C+D Salary Survey 2019 – the largest UK survey of community pharmacy, and the biggest in the survey's 12-year history – ran between October 1 and November 14 and was completed by a total of 2,556 pharmacists and pharmacy staff. C+D's ongoing coverage from the survey can be found on our dedicated hub.
Search through locum pharmacist jobs on the C+D Jobs website.