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Pharmacists locum rates have plummeted to £14.44 an hour? Yes, really

Johnathan Laird

I am in the process of embarking on a portfolio career. I will be working for a few days a week in my local GP practice, helping out by overseeing the clinical governance arrangements at a local private hospital, and of course giving plenty of focus to Pharmacy in Practice.


Initially I will need to do the odd locum to stay in touch, but also to top my income. So, it is in this context, that I have been exploring the locum market with a rather more critical eye. I quite fancied a ‘busman’s holiday’ or two to exploit my new-found freedom from multiple community pharmacy life. I have a few friends in various locations in the UK and upon searching I stumbled across this, in my view, unprecedented rate of £14.44 an hour.


I honestly could not believe it. I had read on some of the online forums that rates of £15 an hour had been quoted but this one beat the lot.


A locum rate of course is normally quoted to the nearest pound. However this disastrously low rate was hidden behind a day rate of £130 for nine hours. To add insult to the inevitable financial injury of this proposition there was no lunch break either.


I know people have attempted to tackle this issue of minimum locum rates, but these endeavours are beyond the lowly pharmacist locum, who bobs on the surface of the volatile UK locum market. The folly of such attempts to fix rates is surely obvious. It occurs to me, and it would appear to many others, that this is an issue caused by the opposing forces of supply and demand. If there are not enough pharmacists, then contractors will have to pay more to secure the less abundant good ones and vice versa.


From a professional viewpoint I feel that workplace pressure is real and increasing. Various professional bodies seek to support pharmacists to deliver ever-increasing quality of pharmacy practice, but if this race to the bottom in the employment market continues then quality must surely suffer. The jobbing pharmacist, unless blindly loyal to the profession, will surely look elsewhere in order to put dinner on the table.


There have been a series of political locum movements recently that have attempted to tackle this issue. Tactics like boycotts and ‘naming and shaming’ low rates have been used. With regret I feel that these issues must be traced again back to the opposing forces of supply and demand.


A compounding factor may be the English community pharmacy situation where most contractors are beating a swift financial retreat hence scrutinising additional costs such as locums. The inescapable fact south of the border is that the government feel that the community pharmacy offering is too expensive. The value of the community pharmacy network is there, but perhaps change is required.


Perhaps the community pharmacy network could deliver significant efficiency savings through robotics and automation, but to hold businesses below the waterline before they have a chance for a short-term saving just seems daft to me.


As I reflect again on my own situation I am grateful that in my rural location in Scotland, where incidentally there is a dearth of pharmacists, rates remain buoyant.


Thank goodness at present I only need to do approximately 1.5 days a week (presuming I get at least £22.5 an hour!). I genuinely feel for those pharmacists forced to work for rates as low as £14.44 an hour and ponder who should lead the battle on the over-supply of pharmacists to the UK market.


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