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The Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 268 No 7182 p93-96
26 January 2002

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Letters to the Editor

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Locums

Time for a rethink

Mr J. Williams, MRPharmS

At one time, the majority of community pharmacists were contracted to the Government to dispense pharmaceutical services. In recent years the balance of ownership of pharmacies has shifted from pharmacist to non-pharmacist owned companies, and most community pharmacists are now employees. The Government dictated pharmacists' income by way of the National Health Service fee structure, and understandably refused to pay increases that were not driven by market forces.

The drive for maximum profitability for the company shareholder helps depress pharmacist remuneration, and many pharmacies with extended hours of opening rely on locums from various agencies for pharmaceutical cover. But if all the locums available for work were to join a single agency, that agency would be powerful enough to negotiate financially with the contractors. Since pharmacist fees and salaries come out of profits generated by the pharmacist's presence, if increased rates of pay were not forthcoming then that presence could be withdrawn. It would be up to the contractor to decide if it was affordable or to seek reimbursement via their Company Chemists Association through the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee from the Government.

In the past, any protest considered by the PSNC was vetoed by the CCA as being against the interests of their shareholders, and, in the case of the smaller contractors, fear of permanent closure. The PSNC negotiates remuneration on behalf of "contractors". The Royal Pharmaceutical Society looks after professional standards, but who attends to the financial concerns of the employee pharmacist? Is it not about time we had our own association and used this shift of ownership pattern to our advantage? A working party should be set up to evaluate the working environment of community pharmacists pharmacists.

The National Pharmaceutical Association with all its experience appears to be eminently suited to set up such a unit and to undertake a feasibility study concerning:

  • The grading of pharmacies according to volume of dispensing supervised, quality and quantity of personnel present and total area of space available for medicine sales and advice
  • The establishment of a salary structure in accordance with a scale of workload, responsibilities and pharmaceutical turnover
  • The creation of a National Pharmacist Locum Agency with a view to it becoming the negotiating body between community pharmacists and their employers

I hope these ideas are worthy of further consideration and constructive discussion in these columns. Clearly the situation where pharmacists are basically paid the same rate regardless of workload must end. Perhaps now is the time to let the market-place decide our worth.

John Williams
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

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