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Vacancies in the North East

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The Pharmaceutical Journal Vol 264 No 7102p950
June 24, 2000 Letters

Hospital pharmacy

Vacancies in the North East

From Mr R. N. Longshaw, MRPharmS

SIR,-This is the fourth occasion I have reported on hospital pharmacy vacancies locally.
Table 1 shows the data for the past financial year and shows some improvements over the previous year,1 including an improvement for the quarter ending September 30. However, while the number of vacancies has reduced in overall terms the percentage vacancies for pharmacists of all grades for 1999-2000 still range from 9.8 per cent to 24.2 per cent, and for technicians of all grades from 4.1 per cent to 5.1 per cent.

Table 1: Percentage of vacant posts, northern sector, NHSE Northern and Yorkshire region
 Quarter ending (1999-2000)
GradeJun 30Sep 30Dec 30Mar 31
MTO 4, 50000
MTO 32.662.205.645.44
MTO 1,25.134.835.124.14
MTO = medical technical officer

The data for pharmacists presented in Table 1 shows worrying consistency of vacancy rates among the mid and higher grade posts, which is of concern for those who have adopted regrading pharmacist posts as part of their recruitment and retention strategy.
Four years on, the Northern sector continues to be about one in 10 pharmacists and one in 20 technicians below establishment. It is perhaps worth mentioning that these shortages of staff coincide with increasing workloads in hospital pharmacies, thus increasing the pressure on all grades of staff remaining.

Workload changes for the sector are not available, but within my own hospital the changes occurring since I first reported vacancy rates for 1996-97 are shown in Table 2. Discharge medicine items have been chosen to illustrate the workload changes, as most patients discharged from hospital are prescribed medicines and therefore changes in numbers are a proxy for throughput. These workload pressures are not unique to Freeman hospital and will be applicable to a greater or lesser extent in all hospitals in the Northern sector.
Where resources have been obtained to reflect workload changes colleagues report using them to appoint staff such as assistant technical officers (ATOs), as within the North East ATOs of the right calibre are more easily recruitable than other grades. It is, therefore, reasonable to presume that dramatic reductions of service have not been seen due in part to skill mix changes that chief pharmacists are implementing within their departments. However, there are stories of reductions in specific activities and refusals to take on new work, however appropriate and sensible it would be to do so. This is consistent with the national picture reported recently.2

Table 2: Percentage change in numbers of discharge items from previous year at March 31
YearPercentage change

Vacancy rates reported here and nationally2 give major cause for concern. My perception is that staff shortages and workload increases combine to reduce pharmacist involvement in teamwork (at ward level) which is a cornerstone of the workforce planning review currently out for consultation.3
It is now time for a thorough national review of hospital pharmaceutical services to determine how best to meet the challenges of health care within the first decade of the 21st century.

R. N. Longshaw
Chief Pharmacist, The Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne


1.Longshaw RN. Vacancies in the North East. PharmJ 1999; 262:876.
2.Anonymous. Pharmacist shortages curtail services at half of Britain's hospitals. PharmJ, 2000; 264:866.
3.A Health Service of all the talents: developing the NHS workforce. Consultation document on the review of workforce planning. HSC 1999/216. September 24, 1999.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20001951

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