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GPhC chief: 'Counterproductive' to set ideal number of pharmacy staff

Duncan Rudkin: Pharmacy inspectors can identify tell-tale signs of understaffing

It would be "counterproductive" for the GPhC to enforce a set number of pharmacy staff for each premises, the regulator's chief executive has told C+D.

It is important that the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) does not reduce staffing levels to a “set of numbers” or a “box-ticking exercise”, Duncan Rudkin told C+D in an exclusive interview on Monday (November 11).

“Every pharmacy is different” and it would therefore be “counterproductive for us to prescribe a number, for example, based on prescription volumes, which would risk being very out of date very quickly as services change”, Mr Rudkin said.

Pharmacy owners' responsibility

Instead, pharmacy owners “must think through their service and make sure that they have a staffing plan and resources” to meet their needs, he added.

This, Mr Rudkin said, is made clear in the GPhC’s standards for registered pharmacies, which require contractors to have “enough staff, suitably qualified and skilled, for the safe and effective provision of pharmacy services” and in its guidance to ensure a safe and effective pharmacy team, which it published last year.

“A pharmacy is a very dynamic environment, so it's important that the staffing plans and the way in which teams are organised throughout the day reflect that,” he said.

Tell-tale signs

Inspectors can identify a “number of tell-tale signs” during their pharmacy visits, which are symptomatic of inadequate staffing levels and that the GPhC would not be able to flag by “looking purely at the numbers”, Mr Rudkin said.

“Because they're professionals themselves, [inspectors] can see tell-tale signs, for example, about untidiness or stock that's been left out, [which] can prompt lines of inquiry, which then unearth some of these issues,” Mr Rudkin added.

The GPhC’s standards relating to the adequacy of staffing was the third most commonly unmet standard by pharmacies inspected in April-June, according to GPhC council papers published in September.

The issues identified included: “inadequate staff numbers to cope with the workload; staffing levels not being adequately considered before taking on a new service; and inadequate provision to accommodate planned or unplanned absences”, the GPhC said.

Last year, the GPhC wrote to pharmacy bodies to ask them what steps they were taking to address inadequate staffing levels.

The C+D Salary Survey 2018 revealed that 40% of pharmacists who describe themselves as stressed self-check prescriptions every day, while 32% have to do this a few times a week.

Do you think the GPhC should introduce minimum staffing levels for pharmacies?

ABC DEF, Primary care pharmacist

Anyone up for a petition to dissolve this incompetent regulator and form a new one with more backbones to stand up against the multiples owners? This is getting ridiculously absurd. 

Arun Bains, Community pharmacist



Completely and utterly useless. The GPhC seems to be run for the interests of the multiples.... not for pharmacists or patients.

Ps: Lovely view of the River Thames from your office in Canary Wharf, Duncan. So nice to see my GPhC fee being put to good use.



What an absolute end-of-a-bell response. This flaccid argument is exactly why most pharmacists think the GPhC are completely impotent in the face of their dominant masters - the pharmacy owners. The way they subjugate themselves in front of these companies is frankly humiliating and degrades the entire profession.
They offer as much security and protection to the general public in the face of dangerously low staffing levels as a condom worn after intercourse.

I hope you enjoy the puns. The dry sense of humour is all that I had left, after years in understaffed community stripped me of my self-worth, dignity and any hope in this profession.

Paul Dishman, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Once again we see the uselessness of a regulator that is in hock to the big business interests of multiple pharmacy owning companies

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

If this was in a developing nation everybody would be pointing fingers and talking about endemic corruption........

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Duncan Rudkin makes a very cowardly stance here. The "tell-tale" signs are constantly in abundance and are often hidden by the fact that the men and women who work in these places typically will go above and beyond because they care about doing a good job.

Their professionalism of the inspectors has nothing to do with seeing obvious signs any layperson can see, and I find this comment nothing but disingenuous, perhaps even mendacious. Staffing levels contribute highly to stress. Being overworked and experiencing burnout is epidemic in the industry.

He states it is counterproductive for them to prescribe a number based on prescription volumes, yet their guidance that they refer to says, on the first point:

"As the pharmacy owner, you should consider the individual context of each pharmacy, including the volumes of dispensing"

It is nonsensical pieces like this article that give the GPhC a bad reputation and why pharmacists have no confidence in them as a body. If there was an alternative, I would wager they'd be very much under consideration.

Greatly Pedantic and Highly Clueless, Senior Management

Just wondering how someone with a degree in Spanish and French can comment on what staffing levels are safe in a community pharmacy. The sooner the GPhC is put out to grass the better for both the profession and the public (along with CPPE and the PSNC). 

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Yes, and no tie! 

CPPE...... I hate that website. I couldn't find something, emailed them, received response, still couldn't find it, emailed again, adding 'you have the worst website I have ever had to use' Received snotty email from Mr BigWhig. Anyway scrapped that piece of CPD and did one from PharmacyMagazine. Lovely to rip 'the middle bit out' like the good old days! And actually read and underline and highlight without having to goggle at a screen. I miss the old CPPE workbooks. I think I would actually pay a small charge to receive a printed copy.  (printing at work a whole workbook frowned upon, you know with the harsh savage cuts and paper being gold plated and a pound a sheet !) 

Stuart Graham, Community pharmacist

Counterproductive to company profits & pharmacist welfare ! Allows the further erosion of the professional standing of pharmacy .


Alexander The Great, Community pharmacist

If the GPHC wont enfore SAFE working conditions regarding staffing levels (which is their job isnt it?? protect the public from poor conditions?), well, the employer certainly doesnt listen to the "management". I dont see the difficulty in having satff numbers for 100hr pharmacies and standard pharmacies based on dispensing volume. IS IT THAT HARD?????

I heard from a locum who worked at a dispensing hub (the company rhymes like Bell)... that they dont employ dispensers? Lol, so they get cheap foreign picking laborers to pick incorrect meds, which gets sent to a branch, and the pharmacist is supposed to unbag and check them all before handing out.


Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

We can all tell stories of inadequate and over-stretched staff. Sometimes that is due to management decisions, other times as a result of circumstances. We all want pharmacies to be safe for patients and good for staff but the continued erosion of funding means we are looking at some pharmacies closing. The GPhC setting minimum levels will simply hasten that. (Side thought - by reporting that inedequate staffing is one of the common standards pharmacies fail on, they have introduced minimum staffing by the back door) 

Farmer Cyst , Community pharmacist

The reason I stopped locuming at lloyds branches was because they never seemed to have adequate staffing levels. Dispensers were on the verge of tears all the time due to workload and lack of staff. The GPhC has been failing if they're supposed to be the ones monitoring staffing levels. The 'inspectors' who are supposed to be keeping an eye on this only visit every 5 years so how exactly is this system working?

Why not have a website where people can report dangerous staffing levels anonymously? The data should remain visible only to the GPhC and should spur a visit by an inspector asap.

The GPhC at the moment is failing patients and pharmacy staff miserably. Contractors are reducing staffing without any care in the world.

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Bear in mind this was happening well before any cuts purely for profit. The cuts only justified and ramped up these unsafe practices.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I agree Benie, stressing the system makes those cracks all the more visible.

P M, Community pharmacist

at these internet pharmacies (factories) i wonder how many pharmacists they have ?

how many prescriptions is each pharmacist responsible for?

maybe c&d could find out ?

also how much do they pay as a ghphc premises fee?

is it the same as an independent doing say 5000 items per month?

if so are they not worried that by losing 2000 pharmacies this will reduce their income.

maybe to be ahead of the curve they should set their fees to reflect how many rx a pharmacy does.

otherwise they could end up like the goverment trying to chase big internet companies for taxes.

any thoughts?



is the gphc available to comment?

Farmer Cyst, Community pharmacist

I was surprised to read in the (otherwise awful) GPhC report for a large online pharmacy near Bristol that they employed 'eight to nine full-time pharmacists' to cover ~40,000 items.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Well Pharmacy had a data entry hub down that way, I remember reading about the mass redundancies they all faced when "advanced dispensing" went down the toilet.

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Hmmmm sounds like an easy cop out. Much easier to keep reprimanding and striking off individual pharmacists 

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

I agree. Rather than ask the company why radon gas was not detected below ground, they will strike off the pharmacist who signed on to a 'safe and effective' pharmacy!

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