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If we do not stand up for ourselves, who will? Don’t be afraid to speak up

Too often community pharmacist employees are caught in situations where they have to work under unacceptably stressful conditions. But nothing will change if we stay silent

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Source: Igor Dutina Dreamstime.com

Staying silent is not necessarily a sign of a competent or good worker — and it is unfair on you and your colleagues

Here is the scenario: you are on your own, the prescriptions are piling up, someone wants emergency hormonal contraception, someone is asking why his repeat prescription has not arrived from the surgery and is not ready for collection, the shop assistant at the front of the shop is ringing the bell for help because her queue is long but your healthcare assistant has a queue of almost 10 people himself. And guess what, there are no other staff available to jump in to help any of you.

If you are a community pharmacist and you are unfamiliar with this scenario then you are either lucky or inexperienced. We have all been there and most of us have learnt to cope (suffer?) in silence. Perhaps some of you have tried raising this issue with your manager. Some of you might even have made a positive impact and working conditions have improved, but I bet a lot of you are met with a brick-wall response such as “Sorry, there’s no budget to allow for extra staff.”

A lot of pharmacists will even say they are too scared to raise the issue for fear of coming across as “incompetent” or “weak” in front of their line managers. I have never understood this flawed thinking in community pharmacy, where you are considered “competent” and “a good worker” if you shut up and put up with things, however risky that may be for you, your staff and patients.

We are not McDonalds or H&M. If we do something wrong there are serious consequences.

Here is my belief: we are here primarily to ensure the safe use of medicines. We are not here for convenience, profit or to meet targets set by those who might be clueless about what we do. If we can ensure we are running a pharmacy effectively and safely — and that includes having adequate staffing levels — then those other factors will follow.

Moreover, staying silent over suboptimal working conditions does not make us “tough” or “good workers”; it puts our right to practise and, more importantly, patients at risk. Let us face it, standard operating procedures are there to protect companies and managers; you will only have yourself to blame if you end up making a serious mistake but did nothing to prevent it.

If you have a good line manager he or she will listen to your concerns and try to do something to address them. If you do not, then consider going further up the management ladder until your voice is heard. Make sure you document all conversations and exchanges, and keep copies of communications such as email or letters.

As (responsible) pharmacists we need to be able to raise concerns constructively without fear, whether those in management like it or not. We should not be afraid to shut a dispensary down if we show up at work one day in a busy pharmacy with inadequate staffing levels and untrained shop staff running the healthcare counter. We are not here to play Russian roulette with our registration or to help drive profits at the expense of patient safety.

The traditionally busy Christmas season has been and gone. How was it for you? Busy no doubt, but did you think you were compromising patient safety (and your rights to practise) as a result of inadequate staffing or other issues? Maybe it is time to think about your needs to ensure you can maintain patient safety in the future.

Benedict Lam is the editor of Focus and senior contributions editor at The Pharmaceutical Journal

See also: Focus — community pharmacy

The issue of Focus in which this article appeared was supported by GSK  

Citation: Supplements DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11134175

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