Staffing issues force pharmacies to cut services and opening hours

The feedback came from the Company Chemists’ Association – which represents the UK’s largest multiples – the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp), the National Pharmacy Association, Community Pharmacy Scotland (CPS) and Community Pharmacy Wales and was published in GPhC papers for a meeting last week (December 6).

The GPhC had asked the five pharmacy bodies to explain what steps they were taking to address inadequate staffing levels.

The GPhC’s premises standard of having “enough staff, suitably qualified and skilled, for the safe and effective provision of pharmacy services” had appeared in the top five unmet standards throughout 2018, although the GPhC noted this only related to around 3% of pharmacies inspected – 28-29 stores in each three-month period.

The five bodies highlighted “some of the difficult decisions taken by pharmacies to ensure they were operating safely at all times, including: limiting added-value services, such as free home deliveries and compliance aids; putting planned investment in service developments on hold; and limiting evening and weekend opening” hours, the GPhC said.

The organisations also told the regulator that staffing in community pharmacies had “wider challenges”, including “difficulty in recruiting accuracy checking technicians” and a “declining pipeline [of] newly qualified pharmacists”.

Staffing has also been affected by “the impact of Brexit on the recruitment of pharmacy staff from within the European Economic Area”, the availability of new roles for pharmacists and the funding cuts in England, the GPhC noted.

Action plans to tackle insufficient staffing

Inspections in which the staffing standard had not been met had found “longer waiting times for patients; dispensing backlogs; delays in date and fridge temperature checks; no staff meetings or development appraisals; [and] staff working after-hours”, the GPhC said.

In these cases the GPhC required the pharmacy owner to complete an improvement action plan, which “typically” resulted in pharmacies “employing more staff, sometimes using staff from other branches; better deployment of available staff, such as training counter staff to work in the dispensary; reducing the services offered; or moving services to other branches”, it said.

The GPhC published guidance on ensuring a safe and effective pharmacy team in June, which includes outlining what pharmacy owners are expected to do in relation to safe staffing.

Action taken by members of the five pharmacy bodies to implement the guidance included having employees dedicated to monitoring staffing, employing more staff, and informing staff of relief available to fill absences, the GPhC said.

The GPhC will bring together trade and professional bodies in the new year to “identify further actions that can be taken by all relevant organisations” to ensure safe staffing levels, it added.

AIMp: Pressures are complex

Commenting on the GPhC papers, AIMp chief executive Peter Cattee told C+D that “workplace pressure is a complex issue and examination of individual circumstances is necessary where things go wrong”.

Most members of AIMp will base future decisions on staffing on their “historic data”, Mr Cattee continued.

CPS: Standards “vague and unrealistic”

CPS chief executive Harry McQuillan said in his feedback to the GPhC on October 17 that “many members” had found the standards on staffing to be “vague and unrealistic”.

Some said that changes that affected staffing, such as investment in a robot, were “not taken into consideration in their inspections,” he said.

In Scotland there is a “shortage of pharmacists for the posts available and this has led to a reliance on locums”, which resulted in concerns about the added costs to contractors. 

“The situation in community pharmacy feels unsustainable,” he added.

Author: Lorraine Oliver