Community pharmacies forced to ‘limit’ services to comply with safe staffing guidance, pharmacy owners say

The number of pharmacies not meeting staffing standards has increased since 2017, the regulator has found. 

Helga Mangion, policy manager for the NPA

Pharmacy owners have told the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) that they have been forced to limit services including evening and weekend opening hours in an effort to operate safely.

In response to safe staffing guidance published by the GPhC in June 2018, some pharmacies have also had to cut back on “added-value services” in order “to ensure they were operating safely at all times”, according to GPhC council papers released ahead of a meeting on 6 December 2018.

In September 2018, the GPhC wrote to organisations representing pharmacy owners, including the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, Community Pharmacy Scotland and Community Pharmacy Wales, to ask what progress had been made on implementing the new guidance.

The organisations responded by saying that some pharmacies had now taken action such as assigning “dedicated staff members to monitor staffing levels”, while others “[employed] more staff where required to obtain the right skill mix”.

However, the council papers added: “They have also highlighted some of the difficult decisions taken by pharmacies to ensure they were operating safely at all times, including limiting added-value services such as free home deliveries and compliance aids; putting planned investment in service developments on hold; and limiting evening and weekend opening.”

The initial GPhC paper included detail on acceptable staffing levels in pharmacies but did not suggest a minimum number of staff that should be on duty at any one time.

The responses from community pharmacies also noted workforce challenges that affected their staffing levels, such as funding cuts, the impact of Brexit on the recruitment of pharmacy staff from the EU, and a “declining pipeline in newly qualified pharmacists”.

Figures from the GPhC showed that in 2016/2017, the number of students applying to study for the vocational MPharm degree was the lowest it has been in the past seven years.

The GPhC reiterated in the council papers that the adequacy of staffing appeared in the top five standards not met throughout 2018.

However, it added that although the overall number of pharmacies failing to meet the standard — 28–29 pharmacies each quarter — remains low, “it represents an increase on the numbers identified in 2016 and 2017, which ranged from 11–20 each quarter”.

Community Pharmacy Scotland told The Pharmaceutical Journal in November 2018 that more than 700 of its members reported staffing difficulties, exacerbated by a shortage of students and EU migrants. 

Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the CCA, told The Pharmaceutical Journal: “CCA member companies take their responsibility for ensuring safe and effective pharmacy teams very seriously. They have approached the implementation of the new guidance in a range of ways to date.”

However, he added: “Our members also recognise that, while meeting the GPhC’s standards, a range of external factors are having an impact on workforce supply within community pharmacy across the UK.”

He added that staffing challenges arising from funding cuts, fewer newly qualified pharmacists and a “rapid segmentation of the pharmacy sector arising from new roles for pharmacists” are “sector-wide”.

“To seek to avoid or overcome some of these external challenges, our members are already looking to develop solutions around flexible working patterns or to encourage more portfolio careers enabling and encouraging staff retention,” he added.

Helga Mangion, policy manager at the NPA, said: “Funding pressures mean many pharmacies have had to take difficult decisions about staffing. However pharmacy teams continue to provide excellent patient-centred care and patient safety will always be their first priority.”

The GPhC added in the council papers that it “will consider a possible thematic inspection of staffing levels as part of our planning for 2019/2020, subject to approval by Council [members]”.

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Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, December 2018, Vol 301, No 7920;301(7920):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205848