Pharmacy may seem to be an attractive career path, as it pays well and it is not a profession that is under threat. Pharmacists will always be needed, whether in hospitals or in community pharmacies. So what’s the problem?
Pay ranges from about £22,000 for a pharmacy technician or dispensing assistant role to about £38,000 for a pharmacy manager or £45,000 and above for a senior clinical pharmacist. After graduating in pharmacy, the usual route is to find a role as a pre-registration pharmacist; this will be a paid role.
Salaries may be higher in GP surgery pharmacies and in hospitals. In community pharmacies, the average salaries may well be below the average.
The main factor which is causing this decline in candidates coming forward to fill available roles is, in all likelihood, the long and unsociable hours including evenings and weekends which are inevitable in this profession. The Government’s shortage occupation list is being reviewed. This list is significant, as anything which appears on it will qualify for relaxed criteria when it comes to seeking candidates from outside the EU.
However, working in pharmacy has always entailed long, unsociable hours, so it is necessary to dig deeper to understand what other factors may be playing a role in this recruitment crisis. Some may even say that it is not a crisis and that pharmacy should not be added to the shortage occupation list; bear in mind that it was added to the list in 2008 but then removed 3 years later.
One of the roots of the issue is that community pharmacies are more rigid than other sectors in offering flexible working patterns. In a typical community pharmacy, a professional could be working 12 hours a day; evidence shows that hospital pharmacies are more open to offering flexibility and family-friendly working hours.
In addition, the level of support from lower grade roles, such as technicians, has diminished. A pharmacy manager may be expected to cover the routine work in addition to the professional and managerial work. One such example of a declining role is that of a technical officer. This role entails labelling and dispensing patients’ prescriptions. There may be up to 180 prescriptions per day. Some pharmacists in community pharmacies and supermarket outlets may have to multi-task and manage without a technician.
Professional autonomy is also important to community pharmacy managers, and many report that this is not respected. Perhaps recruitment would be bolstered were the profession to take on more pharmacy technicians. Some pharmacists would like to own their own business, but the opportunities are few and far between because of the rise in large monopolies.
It seems evident that the difficulties in recruitment are mainly within the community and supermarket pharmacies. There are many more attractive and alternative opportunities in GP surgeries, care homes and hospitals.
It is highly likely that the Brexit referendum in 2016 has had an effect of uncertainty for the future. One pharmacy multiple reported a 43 per cent drop in applications in 2018 in comparison with 2016.
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