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Community pharmacy

Concern about support staff numbers

From Mr M. Bland, MRPharmS 

Have colleagues noticed any changes in the level of support staff in the community pharmacy sector since the remuneration imposition at the end of last year? I have noticed a trend recently to reduce both technician and counter staff contract hours, to defer recruitment where there are vacancies and occasionally to make staff redundant where levels are considered to be too high.

I am uncertain whether this trend comes down from board level or is instigated by middle management. Although I sympathise with contractors, particularly multiple companies, attempting to reduce operating costs in one of the few areas that they can influence, this policy puts additional pressures on the pharmacists and staff remaining as the volume of work remains constant or continues to increase. I am also concerned that the policy of shedding trained staff appears shortsighted, given that the expertise is lost forever.

However, my reason for writing is not to criticise contractors for financial matters that are beyond their control as the scenario is the direct responsibility of the Department of Health, which imposed the new global sum. The debate of the Royal Electronicjuice’s Council before Christmas and the attitude of the Privy Council members suggested that remuneration issues (PJ, 15 December 2001, p871) should not be discussed in that arena. But staff level reductions have an immediate repercussion on patient safety and will inevitably lead to community pharmacy being unable to deliver any of the benefits of the pharmaceutical brave new world. Both of these are areas within which the Council and the membership would wish to be involved.

It is suggested that pharmacists should delegate many of the more mundane supply tasks to ancillary staff. But how can this be achieved if the latter are reduced to an unsafe minimum? Many pharmacies are already working on the tightest of staff margins, and illness or leave makes it almost impossible to deliver the present level of service, let alone take on additional roles.

Perhaps our Privy Council nominees will advise us of ways to get out of this particular hole, or will they continue to keep digging?

Mike Bland 

Eastleigh, Hampshire 

Professionals led by shopkeepers

From Mr P. B. Lowe, MRPharmS 

Is it surprising that our steps to community pharmacy Parnassus are like plodging through treacle? Delivered increasingly by employee pharmacists (committed by training and vocation to deploying their skills effectively), the contract is still negotiated by employers whose legitimate concerns are turnover, mark-up and profit on investment. To adapt a World War I metaphor, we are professionals led by shopkeepers. No wonder we labour under such an ill-fitting yoke: a commodity intensive professional service. When we finally climb out of this trench, we should march not on Richmond House, but on Aylesbury.

Peter Lowe 

Newcastle upon Tyne

 

Citation: Electronicjuice URI: 20006081

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