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Concern that locum shortages are driving up the cost of cover

Sources have told Irish Pharmacy News that a shortage of pharmacy locums is driving up the cost of cover with one pharmacy manager describing it as a “mess.”

Longer retails hours, seven day openings and a recently introduced PSI language exam are making it harder to find locum cover, according to sources who would only speak to Irish Pharmacy News on the basis of anonymity.

It was also suggested that younger pharmacists are choosing to go into hospital in order to work in a more clinical environment, and that some are going to the North because they have the professional capacity to prescribe, making it a more attractive jurisdiction to work in.

Shortages in the number of available locums is driving up costs and leading to severe budgeting problems, and the fact that time off can’t be guaranteed is leaving some pharmacy staff “disgruntled”.

Sources said the pattern began around 2014 when it started to become difficult to find Saturday cover. In 2015 it worsened and finding cover on Friday, Sunday and Monday also became problematic for pharmacists. Rates began to fluctuate and started to increase around this time, especially for Saturday and emergency cover.

This continued throughout 2016 and 2017 with the summer months becoming difficult, though the problem at this time was described as ‘manageable’. A ceiling of fifty euros per hour was reached in 2017 for Saturday and last minute/ emergency cover. That figure has now been breached, with some pharmacists being quoted sixty to seventy euro per hour. The highest quote IPN heard was for seventy five euros per hour for Saturday and last minute cover.

Around April 2017 the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland introduced a language exam for locums, following feedback that some had poor levels of English. The exam has a high pass rate and this could be causing gaps in cover that previously did not exist. Younger pharmacists leaving college are not attracted to long opening hours and weekend working and are more inclined to make it in the ‘gig economy’, a trend that is also being replicated across the UK.

Anonymous sources told Irish Pharmacy News that filling locum shifts is becoming a stressful enterprise and is putting a real strain on resources. Before shortages became a problem, locums would book work days in advance, but now the pattern appears to be that locums are waiting longer to book work, and the rate is higher when booked closer to the time.

Another source suggested that better planning around annual leave could help pharmacists to address rostering issues before they become a problem, and suggested that pharmacists should strongly resist paying over the top rates to ensure the accepted ceiling rate is not breached further.

 

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