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Opening of 100-hour pharmacies has upsides and downsides for recruitment

by Debbie Andalo

In this special feature, Debbie Andalo finds out what impact 100-hour pharmacies are having on recruitment in the community pharmacy sector

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The creation of 100-hour pharmacies is having an impact on recruitment in the community sector, with some companies this year describing the situation at challenging and tough.

Although the pool of available pharmacists is failing to keep up with the demand for jobs created by longer opening hours, supermarkets — which are leading the 100-hour revolution — have no plans to slow down with Asda saying it is scheduling to open another 30 in the next year, pushing its portfolio up to around 180.

Even high street multiples like Boots Alliance, which has a commitment to “midnight” pharmacies in order to meet its target for one of its pharmacies to be within 30 minutes travel of a customer, appears to be feeling the pinch. The company has just announced that it is increasing the annual bonuses for pharmacy staff — in some cases up to a potential maximum 40 per cent of salary — and is working on plans to introduce a national pay spine in order to boost retention.

There have so far been around 450 contracts awarded for 100-hour pharmacies with around half going to supermarkets like Asda and the others being taken up by independent community pharmacists. Boots Alliance human resources director for healthcare Simon Hulme says recruitment in the past 18 months or so has been tough and points to the impact of the 100-hour contract.

He says: “It doesn’t make recruitment any easier when in the past a new pharmacy would have attracted one pharmacist; now its up to three working full time. They don’t come from anywhere. They come out of the same pool.” He denies that the decision to double the bonus pay — up to a maximum 40 per cent of annual salary for pharmacy managers and a maximum 20 per cent for in store pharmacists — was driven by recruitment problems.

He says: “The issue for us is how to keep them [pharmacists] and lock them on, so there is an element of retention in it. The bonus arrangements will be improved significantly which, we hope, will incentivise our pharmacists to deliver good services, sales and script performance.” The bonus pay, which for some pharmacy store managers will mean around an extra £16,000, will be followed next year by the introduction of a structured national pay spine.

He explains: “There will be some flexibility in the structure such as recognition for additional skills , for example being a supplementary prescriber or a preregistration tutor. It will underpin what we are trying to create as an employment brand for Boots, which is ‘life changing work’ — that everyday you come to work you can make a difference.”

The impact of the 100-hour contract was also acknowledged by other high street pharmacy chains including Lloydspharmacy, which this year was named as one of the top 100 graduate recruiters in the Financial Times annual league table.

Although Lloydspharmacy says the recruitment market is buoyant and has the lowest pharmacy vacancy rate for a decade, it points to the 100-hours contract and the availability of fewer locums as they move to permanent contracts as the main factors influencing recruitment.

Lloydspharmacy resourcing manager Barbara Sutherland predicts that the market will see fewer locums because of the current economic climate, with more of them converting to permanent posts.

The Co-operative Pharmacy has two 100-hour pharmacies and no plans to expand this side of the business. Its director of pharmacy practice Liz Colling, who says recruitment is “as challenging as ever” and that 100-hour pharmacies have created a “manpower drain”, predicts the situation for the profession will get worse in the next year.

She says: “We believe that for the industry the situation will worsen in some areas due to the proliferation of 100-hour pharmacies. But pharmacists keen on utilising their skills and at the same time managing their work-life balance, will choose to work for an organisation like ours that places an emphasis on local communities and ethical values.”

The high street chain Superdrug, while acknowledging the drain on manpower created by round-the-clock pharmacies, says recruitment is good although there are fewer vacancies and that primary care is having an effect on recruitment. A spokeswoman says: “There is a demand for more pharmacists to work the extra hours needed to cover the increasing number of 100-hour pharmacies and also primary care trusts are recruiting more practice-based pharmacists.”

As in previous years all community pharmacy companies agree that some geographical areas are more difficult to recruit to than others. Superdrug says East Anglia and the south east have problems while Lloydspharmacy says areas without a pharmacy school have problems filling vacancies as well as areas which are “sparsely populated”.

This view is borne out by the Co-operative Pharmacy, which says areas around the coast are struggling to recruit but there is little difficulty filling posts in major cities. Sainsbury’s head of pharmacy Gary Eardley, who describes company pharmacy recruitment as buoyant, adds: “There are certain pockets around the country that are more difficult and this can be seen across the industry. Examples would be the south west of England, Lincolnshire and East Anglia.”

The new pharmacy contract is creating new employment opportunities for community pharmacists. Asda’s pharmacy superintendent John Evans, who believes recruitment is not a problem for the organisation, says: “If you look at the way pharmacy is changing, many services which used to be done by GPs are now being done by pharmacists. I’d be very excited about that if I was a young pharmacist. In the past 30 years pharmacy has just been about counting tablets and labelling bottles. I think today pharmacy has to rise to the new challenges, and that is what we are doing.”

Asda is pushing forward with plans to open more 100-hour pharmacies although not as fast as it would like because it is being held back by “lack of space in stores”, he says. The intention in the future is that where a new 100-hour pharmacy opens it will include new services. But he says: “At the moment we are currently consolidating what we offer.”

Those services which pharmacists already provide include travel and influenza vaccines as well as blood pressure and diabetes checks. The supermarket is interested in offering vascular screening as part of the Government’s national programme for England, but says it will wait to see the detail and would expect to be paid for providing the service.

Sainsbury’s is also offering diabetes services and flu vaccinations and is considering adding an allergy testing service. Mr Eardley says: “These new developments are requiring pharmacists to develop new skills but as yet it is not creating additional job opportunities.”

Asda is also in talks with two primary care trusts in Boston and Lincoln about bringing GP surgeries into their stores. Models being considered include GPs seeing any patients who come into the store or having a store-based practice which takes referrals from other local practices.

Mr Evans says: “The easiest option would be if a GP sees patients off his own list but it wouldn’t be such a benefit [to shoppers] as having an open-door policy. The end game though is that it makes sense that people see a doctor in the place they visit as part of their daily life. This development would benefit pharmacy but we see is as separate, as it would stand on its own.”

Medicines use reviews

The development of medicines use reviews is bringing greater professional satisfaction to community pharmacists and boosting their skills but not necessarily increasing jobs. Boots Alliance reckons it has around 45 per cent of the market share of MURs compared with its share of the prescribing market, which it puts at around 21 per cent. Says Mr Hulme: “As far as the MUR services are concerned we are tying to move that business, there are opportunities in the future.”

It is putting consulting rooms with running water into pharmacies so that when new services are announced it will be ready to go. While Boots Alliance reckons the MURs market is mainly shared by itself, Lloydspharmacy and Tesco, the Co-operative Pharmacy says it has “embraced” the MUR service as well.

Ms Colling says: “We are also working with primary care organisations to expand our enhanced service offering, and this again is providing more opportunities to use the clinical skills of our pharmacists and technicians.”

Lloydspharmacy says it has carried out 400,000 MURs to date and has also introduced an asthma medicines support service around a MUR. Other services on offer via enhanced services include smoking cessation, emergency hormonal contraception as well as a minor ailments service.

It is also working with the Royal College of General Practitioners to “support its substance misuse” service, the company says.

Superdrug is also branching out into new services for patients and customers, which include running a 12-week weight management programme, computerised cardiac risk assessment and a screening screening for air-borne allergens.

Across the board community pharmacy companies are positive about the employment opportunities which the pharmacy White Paper will bring to the wider profession.

Ms Collings believes it will mean a greater investment by companies like hers into staff and professional development, including pharmacy technicians. “This has got to be a positive step forward for all, but it will mean that pharmacists wanting to work for a business like ours will have to be engaged with this agenda.”

Ms Sutherland from Lloydspharmacy predicts the White Paper will “undoubtedly change the nature of the pharmacists’ role away from dispensing towards services and this will in turn change the entire pharmacy model”.

The new model, she says, will affect the “staffing matrix”, which will have to change. Superdrug believes it could create the opportunity for the company to employ “specialist community pharmacists”.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10008191

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