When I first started it on WhatsApp, the aim was to understand what the issues were in the locum market and to find out why the rates were decreasing. One of the biggest problems I found was that locums don’t talk to each other about rates and shifts. Those with good negotiation skills don’t share the know-how. This has left a severe skill gap. A lot of locums, especially newly qualified pharmacists, have no idea what the market rates are in a certain area and this leads them to accept low rates offered by companies and certain locum agencies that manipulate the newly-qualified naivety. Some advise newly-qualified locums that they’re not worth more than £18 or £19/hr. If you don’t know any better and if no one tells you otherwise, then they are more likely to accept what they are being told by some of the scrupulous agencies and companies. When this goes on for a number of years and locums are pitted against each other through a culture of fear of being blacklisted, it creates a downward spiral. This has led to many pharmacists going into other sectors or leaving the profession altogether. So I created one group for the North West region with a couple of basic rules for posting shifts and I supported locums by negotiating on their behalf and teaching them how to negotiate. I risked my own locum work by calling out companies and agencies that threaten and lie to locums.
This caused many locums to join my newly formed group on WhatsApp as they know that in my groups we, the locums, will not tolerate threats. Soon I expanded to 3 groups but that was still not enough as more locums wanted to join my groups. During the initial stages of the One Voice group, I discussed the pros and cons of a call for boycott and wondered whether there was another way to resolve our problems. From my own research, I knew a boycott won’t solve our problems as things will soon be back to normal. What we needed was a place where we could all come and talk about our issues and find a way to create a market that works for both pharmacists and contractors. I wanted to give the power back to pharmacists so we could focus on patient care and workplace pressure and not just about declining wages. I understand the need to make a profit but as a healthcare professional, I also understand the need for a safe working environment where pharmacists are remunerated fairly for the risk they take. So I decided to create The Pharmacist Co-operative. A support network that unites, represents and speaks with one powerful voice.