Are locum pharmacists paid too much?
When you look at locum pharmacist wages and compare them to their salaried colleagues, it can’t be denied that on paper, at least, their potential earnings stand to be much higher. I think there are a few factors that need to be considered when answering this question, firstly, there’s no sick pay or holiday pay. So if a locum pharmacist earning £28 per hour takes 4 weeks off work as salaried pharmacists would, they would lose over £4,000. If they are sick, they do not earn the £210 day rate.
Another thing to consider is that locums are not guaranteed work. So while on paper they may earn a lot more money per year than salaried pharmacists, the salaried pharmacist is guaranteed that salary. A locum pharmacist has the potential to earn the yearly sum of money if they are able to find continuous employment. Furthermore, locums have to self-fund any further development or training and employ the services of an accountant, whereas salaried pharmacists don’t.
With the NHS pay caps for locums now in force, I think the ‘locum lifestyle’ has gone from an attractive way to earn considerably more money to be more attractive to pharmacists who appreciate the freedom and flexibility that locum work offers.
What is the influence of the social media ‘super-groups’ on the locum market?
The social media debate rages on in general and there are those who will favour its positive attributes more than its negative ones and vice versa. I think that social media has allowed a lot of pharmacists with similar views to find likeminded individuals. It’s also proved to be an excellent means of highlighting key issues facing the market such as remote supervision and tumbling locum rates.
I think that there is also a point to be made that the supergroups describe themselves as uniting the profession, which I wholeheartedly support. The issue that seems to face these groups is that uniting the profession means creating a safe place for all members of the profession to take part in honest and open discourse, but members that don’t agree with the narrative being pushed into the groups can often feel alienated and ridiculed, which is not conducive to the very reason that the groups were created.
When there is an unbalance in negative vs positive propagation of news, views and opinions, these groups can focus so much on perceived threats and miss the positive news coming out the profession, which is key to motivating the community to become a progressive and forward-thinking workforce. The groups have done a wonderful job in creating a community of thousands of pharmacists and I would encourage them to use them to create an environment that accepts the challenges faced by the profession but equally supports the large section of optimistic and motivated pharmacists who want to be part of the community and are actively trying to tackle the problems faced by their peers.
What is it like running your own business?
Tough but worth it. There are some days where you feel like the contestant on “take me out” who gets all red lights on the first round and the rejection hurts. But, there are days where you feel like you have won the lottery and you can put a satisfying tick on the list of things to do. Running your own business is like having a baby, you love it but it can drive you crazy. There’s no point shouting at it when it’s not going your way and you know that every minute that you devote to its development will set it up for a prosperous future.
Coming from community pharmacy into business are there skills you have had to lose and others you have had to work on?
As a hospital pharmacist, I’ve tried to hold on to as many skills as possible by undertaking locum shifts whenever my calendar allows me to. Clinically, I feel that my skills are still sharp but I do think that their development would have been greatly accelerated if I didn’t devote so much time to running a business. I’ve had to work on so many skills that were on the periphery of a hospital pharmacists skill set. For instance, project management and financial and technical analysis are used at times as a band 6 or 7 pharmacist but they are required much more heavily in the business. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by great teachers both in my hospital days and while being a business owner.
What is your view on the state of community pharmacy?
I think community pharmacy is in a really interesting place right now. There sure are threats to the sector, coming from multiple angles – government legislation, online pharmacies and Brexit to name a few. However, the challenges that these threats possess have also shed light on some of the most talented individuals looking to tackle them.
There are some things that we have to accept and look to adapt to, rather than fighting for community pharmacy to stay the same. Everything from funding, clinical knowledge and consumer habits are changing and as an industry, we can’t expect any of these to remain how they have historically. The world of pharmacy is littered with individuals who have the drive and skill set to bring about some great changes and I think it’s time to nurture their growth and the products and services they create in order to create a sustainable community pharmacy model.
Overall, I’m optimistic about pharmacy in general. I’d rather be optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right.
How does community pharmacy need to change to survive?
I think that community pharmacy owners need to be savvy to the fact that consumer habits are changing and look at ways to attract them back to their stores. I think there are a lot of lessons to be learnt from the ‘death of the high street’ and the boom of online retailers. While I don’t think that every pharmacy needs to become an online one, I think the use of technology and online marketing used by online retailers can definitely be used as inspiration for community pharmacy.
New technology is also helping speed up data transfers between health care providers and this alongside new training and development courses for community pharmacists should allow for the community pharmacies to provide a higher level of clinical expertise. Again I think this adds to the draw of using a community pharmacy rather than an online one.
Community pharmacy wages are also a hot topic right now. While shift rates are decreasing there are a lot of talented individuals working on reducing agency fees and passing on more of the rate to the pharmacist. Super-groups have helped in establishing a baseline of what most individuals will work for which has helped prop up rates. As the entire healthcare service is squeezed, it’s expected that rates will be too but I think it’s about improving efficiencies which in turn save money, which can be passed on the workforce.