Insight: Giving staff a decent pay rise will hit us hard

Analysis

Insight: Giving staff a decent pay rise will hit us hard

By Alexander Humphries*

We have no choice but to give our staff a decent pay rise this year – and that will hit us hard. It is only because we’ve been Covid jabbing in the background that we can afford to even consider it... 

It is impossible to turn on the TV or radio at the moment without hearing about the cost of living crisis. The price of everything is spiralling and the clamour from our hard pressed staff for a pay rise is growing ever louder. I am worried about how we are going to retain the best of them.

The latest National Living Wage rise will hit pharmacy employers hard. Successive increases have flattened pay differentials; counter assistants are now paid as much as pharmacy technicians or supervisors.

And why should people take on all this extra stress and responsibility without some form of financial reward? We are finding staff retention and recruitment difficult enough as it is at the moment.

 The obvious question is – will there be any additional funding to help us cope with these external cost pressures? I think we all know the answer to that.

The cavalry isn’t going to come charging over the hill, despite the new Health and Social Care Levy, which is supposed to help the health system to recover from Covid. When it comes to the crunch, pharmacy never seems to truly count as NHS. 

Failing service

Whenever there is a conversation about extra funding, the sector is told it needs to make efficiencies – yet community pharmacy is one of the few areas of the NHS that does make annual efficiency savings in excess of the NHS long-term average of two per cent. We have regularly been asked to do more for less.

However, the stark truth of the matter is that we can’t operate a service, safely, that is fit for the demands of a post-Covid 2022 health system based on funding that was frozen nearly a decade ago.

One result of this is that the owners of Boots and Lloyds are having to play pass the parcel with their struggling assets.

Big is no longer beautiful. Small and adaptable is the name of the game. You only need to look at the Covid vaccination service. The multiples largely don’t have the capability or, more importantly, the capacity and workforce to deliver on this service.

In our area, a local vaccination site run by one of the major players has lost its vaccinator – but rather than stopping patients from booking their appointments, they are cancelling people the day before.

This is disastrous not only for their reputation but also for pharmacy as a whole.

Investing in people is a must

We have to invest in people, both in extra wages but also in training and development, in order to deliver sustainable services. We need our teams to be able to take more of the strain off pharmacists.

If we start to see the best of pharmacy support staff drifting off to sit on the tills at their local supermarket for more money and less stress, the whole service will begin to collapse.

We are already seeing signs of this with closures and the reduction in opening hours by the multiples and supermarket pharmacies in particular.

All of which is only hastening the shift towards distance selling pharmacies, which, frankly, add zero healthcare value.

Far from freeing up resources, as they claim in their marketing, local pharmacies are having to spend more time re-issuing scripts that haven’t arrived and generally sorting out the mess for worried patients. 

The distance sellers cherry pick the ‘easy’ prescriptions and dump all the complex cases on us. Where is the clinical accountability? Internet pharmacies are simply a supply channel, not genuine healthcare providers.

But, in the end, it all comes back to money. England’s fixed funding deal has been a total and utter disaster for community pharmacy – made worse by rocketing inflation – which we literally cannot afford to repeat. 

Alexander Humphries is the pen name of a practising community pharmacist. The views in this article are not necessarily those of Pharmacy Magazine. Are you struggling to keep up with staff pay demands? Email pm@1530.com

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