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Make sure your locums get adequate support

by Sasa Jankovic

The flexibility and choice offered by locuming appeals to many pharmacists. However, Sasa Jankovic describes how the quality of your support staff can also affect your ability to retain consistent locums

Business insight | Getting the best from your workforce


Pharmacists have many reasons for choosing to work as locums and, as long as the demand for them remains high, locums will be able to choose when and where to work.

Popular locum pharmacists will have the freedom to turn down work in shops where they have had a bad experience, in favour of shops that they have enjoyed working in.

Is your pharmacy one that struggles to retain regular locums?

Shaun Hockey, managing director of pharmacy recruitment agency PL-UK Recruitment Ltd, also works as a locum one or two days per week. He believes that reliable, knowledgeable support staff are the number one priority to enable a locum to run a pharmacy smoothly.


“If you are only booked for a day or two then you only need someone to explain how the dispensary and pharmacy runs because you are, in effect, holding the fort,” says Mr Hockey. “If you’re [booked] for longer then you need to be told more in-depth information, such as times of collection services, time restrictions regarding methadone supply, and so on.”

All pharmacies should have a folder of standard operating procedures (SOPs), but while these are great in principle, in practice these folders can be cumbersome and difficult to use as a reference. Sarah Sharma, a locum pharmacist from London, explains: “Before I start a new locum position, I always phone the pharmacy manager in advance to find out about things like alarm codes, where the keys are, computer passwords, where to park and who I am going to be working with.

“Most of this information should be available in the SOPs but you can’t always find it — so it’s good to prepare in advance. I also rely heavily on the support staff to be able to fill me in with all of this kind of information once I arrive.”

Although Mr Hockey does not think pharmacy managers need to train their staff specifically to support locums, he emphasises that it is in their interest to ensure locums get sufficient backup. “The pharmacy manager has to come back to it all after the locum stint,” he says.

“You want everything running as smoothly as it did before you went away without too many things to sort out. If you need to leave a few notes for your locum to explain specific things that might come up, then do.”

Mr Hockey adds that nominating a senior technician or dispenser as the point of contact for the locum is sensible, and that all staff should be made aware of who this is.

Staff responsibilities

Communication with the locum is not the only staff-related issue. You also need the right number of staff to keep everything running smoothly. Ms Sharma describes an occasion when she worked at a pharmacy that did not have a dispenser.

“This situation can turn seemingly simple tasks, such as using the computer system, into a minefield. If you have a good dispenser and well-trained staff then everything ticks over.”

She believes all members of staff should be properly trained and aware of their responsibilities. “I don’t want to have to be reminding staff to fill shelves, date-check stock or unpack orders,” she adds.

Many pharmacies are without managers permanently and rely entirely on locums. Here, the importance of good staff is paramount. “These kinds of pharmacies are held together by their support staff,” says Mr Hockey.

He also suggests that using too many locums in one shop can make life difficult for support staff. “Something that has always puzzled me is why some of the multiples seem to prefer a different locum in every day,” he says.

“Some branches could be seeing six locums per week. There is an obvious lack of continuity here, which is why a strong team of support staff is vital.”

In Mr Hockey’s experience, most locums receive good support from pharmacy staff. He estimates that “98 per cent of all support staff are fantastic”. However, some locums report negative experiences where support staff have not offered enough help. This usually results in locums refusing to go back to work in these branches again, he adds.

Treat locums with respect

“I realise it can be unsettling for staff if they are seeing a new locum every few days,” says Ms Sharma, “but I treat them with respect and so it is nice to get respect back from them, rather than being treated as a ‘corpse with a certificate’.

“The quality of support staff can absolutely make or break the locum experience for me. I have worked in some pharmacies that I would never return to. The worst was one where everyone went out at lunchtime and the pharmacy was locked up.

“There was no spare set of keys, so the dispenser asked me, at the exact moment that she was walking out the door with the rest of the staff, whether I wanted to be locked in or out of the pharmacy.

“With no prior warning that this was the lunchtime routine, I opted to stay locked in, but once they had all gone I realised I didn’t have any lunch with me. I’ve never been back to locum there again, but I did learn the valuable lesson of always keeping a Cup a Soup in your bag at all times.”

At this time of year, with locums in demand for holiday cover, those on Mr Hockey’s books have a choice of pharmacies to work in every day. Some branches book locums up to eight months in advance to get the ones they want. This means a locum can choose where to work.

He makes clear: “Pharmacists are professional people, and they expect the people they work with to be professional too.”

Keeping locums happy

  • Nominate a senior member of staff to be the point of contact for locums
  • Leave notes explaining complicated problems that might arise
  • Leave accessible information that is sufficient for the period of cover
  • Make sure at least one member of staff can use the dispensary computer
  • Do not assume that a locum will have the time to locate and read a folder of standard operating procedures

Citation: Retail Round-up URI: 10026512

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