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Opinion: Why are community pharmacists quitting?


Opinion: Why are community pharmacists quitting?

With so many pharmacists choosing to leave community pharmacy there have been calls to pause recruitment to GP surgeries. Pharmacy needs to ask itself why so many are ready to jump ship, says PM’s deputy editor Arthur Walsh

There are many pharmacists doing fantastic work in general practice but the fact remains that for many surgeries a pharmacist is a nice-to-have, not a necessity.

Community pharmacies, on the other hand, require the skills and expertise of a pharmacist by their very definition. And surely patients derive at least as much benefit from visiting their local pharmacy as from their friendly neighbourhood ‘clinical’ pharmacist.

So I sympathise with Community Pharmacy Scotland, which at the end of August called for a temporary pause in the recruitment of pharmacy professionals to GP surgeries.

They warned of a crisis in the Scottish workforce, with almost 600 whole-time equivalent community pharmacists and 300 WTE pharmacy technicians having quit the sector for general practice in the past three years. That has to be tough for a network of over 1,200 pharmacies to absorb, not to mention their patients.

The situation is just as severe in England and Wales, said AIM chief Leyla Hannbeck as she called for the NHS to sit down and agree a workforce strategy. “The GPs must be asked to stop,” she insists.

These stark warnings chime with the findings of our recent workforce survey, reported in last month’s Pharmacy Magazine. Two-thirds of respondents said they had seriously thought of leaving community pharmacy and half said they were considering roles in general practice and primary care.

This is shaping up to be a problem of existential proportions for a sector already struggling with frozen funding, so it makes sense for leading voices to try and get to grips with it – but is a blanket directive really the best route to go down? It may not be their intended message, but it appears to some that CPS and AIM are effectively trying to dictate where pharmacists can work.

Voting with their feet

As uncomfortable as it may be for community pharmacy’s top brass to acknowledge, pharmacists aren’t simply being stolen away by those awful GPs. In many cases, they are voting with their feet.

Our survey respondents said they have simply had enough. Asked what appealed to them about general practice, they said things like: “Better conditions, less pressure, less non-professional rubbish.”

While for a handful the famous gold-plated NHS pension was the biggest draw, far more said they wanted a better work-life balance. Those employed by the multiples were the most likely to consider changing sector.

Of course, some end up regretting the move to GP land. Hannbeck warns that for every pharmacist doing satisfying patient-facing work, there is one stuck doing back office tasks.

But the numbers don’t lie. While much of the blame lies with the NHS for launching new career paths with no proper workforce planning, community pharmacy also needs to look closer to home and ask why so many pharmacists are eager to jump ship.

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