This is a campaign letter for the 2021 RPS national pharmacy board elections. The views expressed in this letter belong to the author. Find out more about the RPS elections.
The issue of lunch or ‘rest’ breaks for pharmacists, especially those working in community pharmacy, has always been a contentious issue. What is an actual rest break? The gov.uk website states that “Workers have the right to one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during their working day, if they work more than 6 hours a day. This could be a tea or lunch break. The break doesn’t have to be paid — it depends on their employment contract.” Self-employed pharmacists will have to negotiate to be paid for rest breaks. It is important to note that a rest break is not just about eating and drinking, both of which can be done without having both a mental and physical break.
An ideal rest break should both be uninterrupted and away from the workplace. A pharmacist should be able to apply what I would call the ‘Car test’ to determine if a rest break is indeed one. If you are able to spend your entire 30, 45 or 60 minute rest break in your car with your mobile switched off, then you can say you have had a rest break.
There are many issues with patient expectations — especially in community pharmacy — as to what services are available to patients and customers where the pharmacist is absent from the pharmacy during their rest break. Some pharmacies manage this expectation by having an A4 stand placed on the pharmacy counter with a notice, such as “The pharmacist will be having their required rest break between 14:00 and 14:30 and we will be unable to sell some medicines or give out prescriptions during this time. Please arrive before or after these times to be served”.
Taking adequate rest breaks is important, both for the wellbeing of the individual pharmacist, and safety of patients and customers alike. There might even be a case for recording daily rest breaks taken in the Responsible Pharmacist register as good practice.
During the coronavirus pandemic, and for the first time, a lot of community pharmacies closed for lunch for 45 minutes, for example, to allow for staff rest breaks and sanitisation of the pharmacy premises. A lot of useful tasks can be achieved by pharmacy teams during such short breaks, such as cleaning, date code checking, claiming Electronic Prescription Service prescriptions, etc.
In conclusion, I believe there is a case to be made for a paid, minimum 30 minutes, uninterrupted rest break for all pharmacists working more than a six-hour shift.
Adebayo Adegbite, election candidate, English Pharmacy Board, Royal Pharmaceutical Society