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Insight: We are being hit hard by pharmacist shortages


Insight: We are being hit hard by pharmacist shortages

I understand the concerns of local NHS bodies regarding temporary pharmacy closures. It is fast becoming a major crisis as a ‘perfect storm’ of foreseeable workforce issues collide...

By Alexander Humphries*

Locally we have had serious problems with some pharmacy groups being unable to find pharmacists to cover shifts.

The boss has had to fork out £50 an hour to a Saturday locum recently in order to keep the pharmacy open, but I don’t always see the same level of commitment from some of the larger pharmacy companies. They seem quite happy to close a pharmacy for all or part of the day if they cannot find a pharmacist. Some of the multiples don’t even seem to be hiding the fact that they aren’t trying to keep branches open.

I understand that if, say, one of your pharmacists gets pinged to self-isolate through NHS Test and Trace with only a few hours’ notice, it might not be possible to avoid a closure or service disruption, but one incident I know about was due to a planned holiday. This isn’t the first time this has happened, and declining service levels are matched by rising public frustration and seeming indifference from NHS England.

Bad behaviour

While I do not defend the multiples in this, I am absolutely enraged by the activities of some locums. I am not talking about rates here, that is just a function of supply and demand, and I don’t blame individual locums for pricing their time accordingly. What I am talking about is the attitude of some locums, one of whom has now been banned for life from our pharmacy because of his aggression and rudeness.

“So what?” he will say, “there is plenty of work around.” Yes there is, but don’t try and pass yourself off as a professional when your message was akin to a blackmailer asking for a blank cheque...

I blame NHS England for causing the problem. It takes about 10 years to plan and implement changes to any health professional workforce.

The implementation of the Alternative Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS), which pays for healthcare professionals including pharmacists to work for a PCN, was implemented from nowhere, with no apparent consultation with any of the professions involved and no apparent forethought for the impact on other branches of the professions concerned.

Pharmacists moving into PCN roles is removing significant numbers of part-time pharmacists in particular from the community pharmacy workforce. We are also seeing others involved in the Covid vaccination service.

And although it breaks my heart to say it, I’m also seeing good pharmacists fed up with the relentless grind in community pharmacy, looking at the work-life balance and deciding this is no longer for them.

In some areas of the country I believe we are not far away from the collapse of the community pharmacy service, whether this is due to the ‘pingdemic’, Covid booster programme or the fact that everyone is knackered and can’t get a day off because there are no locums.

I have not been able to take a week off in a year now, and the very earliest I can realistically think about doing so would be next spring. How many of you are in the same boat?

Sustainable plan

So what can be done about this? We need a sustainable workforce plan that recognises the impact of primary care recruitment (up to 7,500 required in PCNs by 2024). I would freeze ARRS recruitment for pharmacists for the time being and I would discourage locum pharmacists from being used in vaccination centres.

Simply, we have to ensure the supply of medicines to patients – which might mean some difficult decisions ahead.

*Alexander Humphries is the pen name of a practising community pharmacist. The views in this article are not necessarily those of Pharmacy Magazine. Have you had to close due to pharmacist shortages? Email

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