A solution to the locum commotion? Tohidul Islam of The Locum Co-operative offers his view

SO, you are a community pharmacist. You’ve spent 5 years sweating it out, and you’ve accumulated thousands in student loan debts and have big dreams for your future.

The phone buzzes: it’s a message from a locum agency. They would like you to cover a shift. You read on and your smile turns upside down when you read its 50 miles away and they can only pay you £19 an hour, but no mileage. You ask them if they will negotiate, but they tell you there are another 5 locums sitting at home looking for work, but they were gracious enough to ask you first because you’re a ‘good’ pharmacist.

So, you ask yourself: Did I really go through 5 years at university to be patronised by someone who has no idea what is really required to be a pharmacist? You do the only thing any self-respecting locum in your position would, you politely ignore the message and wait for the next available shift.

If the above scenario sounds familiar that’s because as locum community pharmacists we’ve all been in that situation. We have all heard the usual talk from agencies who tell you how many locums they have on their list; how hard it is to find work these days; how bad the economic climate is; rates are just going one way, and that is down.

They will tell you there are too many European pharmacists working for €10 an hour, so you can’t compete with them unless you’re willing to take £19 an hour for an emergency shift or £18 if you’re booked in advance. Some companies even go as far as telling you if money is your main concern this isn’t the job for you.

These days it’s difficult to tell where the pharmacy company ends and the locum agency begins since they work so seamlessly to put a downward pressure on locum rates. What they don’t generally tell you, however, is that you as a locum pharmacist are also a business, and as a business you need to work out whether it’s profitable to stay on in this business or do something else.

What you won’t hear, is the fact that just as you need a pharmacy to work, a pharmacy also needs you to legally operate, although these days there are a lot of other opportunities in different areas. You won’t hear about the risk of a prison sentence from dispensing errors. They also won’t tell you that by hiring a locum it is actually cheaper for the company than to hire a manager as you won’t be getting any company benefits.

So what is the solution according to Tohidul?

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