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Scottish locums flag attempts to drive down rates, PDA warns

PDA: we will have “no hesitation” in reporting such cases to the CMS

Locum pharmacists in Scotland have flagged attempts to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to drive down locum rates, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has said.

The PDA has received reports from Scottish locum pharmacists claiming their rates are being driven down through “different mechanisms”, the organisation said in a statement earlier this week (October 26).

Increasing numbers of locums in Scotland are approaching the PDA with concerns over this issue, director Paul Day told C+D earlier this week (October 28).

In its statement earlier in the week, the PDA said it was receiving reports of “what is beginning to look like attempts to drive down the locum rate in Scotland”.

These include accounts of “large chain multiples engaging locum agencies to import pharmacists from England into Scotland”, even when Scottish locum pharmacists – who are trained to provide services such as the NHS Pharmacy First – are available to work.

“The bookings include the provision of travel and hotel expenses, raising the question of how this could possibly be a more economic approach – unless the long-term effect was to drive down locum rates in Scotland,” the PDA said.

The reports from locums suggest some employers are “taking advantage of the oversupply of locums, which the pandemic has caused to drive down locum rates”, it added.

Redeployed from health boards

According to other locums, community pharmacies in Scotland would sometimes prefer to source pharmacist cover through their local health board emergency COVID-19 redeployment scheme, the PDA said.

Introduced in April by the NHS in Scotland, the scheme allows health boards to redeploy pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to community pharmacies to support them in coping with an increased workload triggered by the pandemic.

The PDA said that one of its members reported “being told by a pharmacy contractor that they were not going to pay the standard rate requested by our member and that they would go to the health board and get a pharmacist from them instead”.

However, a Scottish government spokesperson told C+D yesterday (October 29) that the pharmacy network’s workload has returned to “activity levels pre-pandemic”.

For this reason, “no health boards are providing additional support to community pharmacies in their area”, they said.

“As independent contractors, community pharmacy owners are wholly responsible for all aspects of their business operations, including the recruitment of permanent or locum staff and rates of pay offered,” the spokesperson added.

No hesitation in referring cases to CMA

The PDA “will have no hesitation in referring any anti-competitive cartel behaviour to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), where necessary”, it said.

PDA director Paul Day told C+D that the organisation has not yet reported any contractors to the CMA, but that it has received a “significant number” of reports of anti-competitive behaviour from Scottish locums.

“It can never be right to seek to manipulate locum rates downwards by deliberately flooding the local market with locums from elsewhere, particularly when this results in some patients not being able to receive the care that should be available to them via the Scottish NHS Pharmacy First Scheme due to a lack of required training in replacement locums from England,” the PDA said in its statement.

Three locum agencies told C+D last month they had seen a drop in demand for locum pharmacists during spring and summer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What do you make of the claims reported by the PDA?

Freelance Chemist, Pre-reg Pharmacist

They did the exact same with English locums. They were importing cheap labour from the EU.  The shoe shop, owl, cream company and everybody else and their dog!!

it's disgraceful behaviour by by business.

A Pharmacist, Allocation & Distribution

The PDA Union have been working with Boots to get rid of locums altogether. As part of their pay claim for 2020 they proposed additional payments for employed pharmacists so that Boots could "avoid the need for locums"

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

There is nothing new under the sun with regards to manipulating locum rates. The GPHC has no remit to be interested - and it is not concerned with terms of employment, working conditions of stressed, over-worked and abused pharmacy teams in the most extraordinary year ever.

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

You're wrong. They are interested when the multiples complain.

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

I am right because they have no interest in what those in the trenches are experiencing.

C A, Community pharmacist

I seem to recall the GPhC weighing in on locums profiteering by charging "inflated rates", now the shoe is on the other foot I expect we won't hear anything from Duncan. 

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Hmmmm I wonder what Rudkin is going to do? Answers on a postcard.

Anyhow Scotland don't be shocked this has been happening in England for a good while with the multiples especially.  Rudkin doesn't seem too concerned. In fact he slapped down Locums during the pandemic for apparently making too much money. 

Mr Anon, Community pharmacist

A freedom of info request revealed that Rudkin's statement about profiteering was made after a single complaint was received about locum rates 

C A, Community pharmacist

So what you're saying is if there's more than on complaint by locums affected the GPhC will issue a similar statement about multiples profiteering? 

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Some sceptics believe the GPhC are the multiples and the multiples are the GPhC. Just saying...

Joe Locum, Community pharmacist

As a Scottish locum I often had to clean up after locums who couldn't do services, I had patients that came to me but had been in the day or week before for smoking cessation, EHC, UTI treatments and other services such as minor ailments, all due to locums that couldn't provide services. I reported this to the health boards but they weren't interested. If you think that this annoyed me, the regular pharmacy staff where horrified as well, as it was their patients that were being turned away.
A few other locums who I've talked to also noticed that the multiples all changed booking rates to the penny at exactly the same time. Well, Boots, Lloyds and Rowlands all tried to lay down rules on exactly the SAME DAY on multiple occasions. 'no bookings over X amount' 'full milage can't be claimed' 'weekend rates are X' 'Glasgow is X rate'. Absolute joke. But when you look at it closely, locums realised that the multiples where obviously conspiring together. It's obvious that all the area managers from the multiples talk to each other, most have worked with each other and jumped ship to another company, heck, some are related to each other. (I'm guessing a WhatsApp group has just been deleted). But the absolute worst is when locums are excluded from being asked to work in Scotland because they are resident there. Multiple times agencies sent emails for Scottish dates and venues to ALL BUT SCOTTISH LOCUMS. We know this as once Scottish based pharmacists living in England where forwarding us on emails and when we approached the agency's we were told they couldn't book us. Scottish locums had to fight over the scraps. The multiples will do anything to get pharmacists wages down. They have no intrest in the profession, they don't want us to better ourselves, or certainly not at the shareholders expense. And this what it boils down to, money. The multiples will happily compromise patient care if it means more profit for the shareholders. The sooner pharmacists realise the multiples are bad news for the profession the better.

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Joe, I think you are absolutely correct. I think this is happening in England too. I have been of the opinion that the multiples are operating as a cartel on this issue and colluding to drive rates to about £18-£20 an hour. These were the rates back in around 2003-2005. 

I hope anyone who is active on student's forums is actively pushing this news about the huge fall in pay and lack of pay rises and locum rate cuts. 

C A, Community pharmacist

If anyone has evidence of this please forward it to the PDA and the CMA. If Joe Locums opinion has any validity it's illegal. Though I for one am sure the GPhC would never let this happen. 

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Write a letter to Rudkin in Canary Wharf......

Angela Channing, Community pharmacist

Don't hold your breathe for a reply Ben! I wrote to the old RPSGB in 2009 asking for clarification on some points in their new RP regulations. I'm still waiting for my reply! 

Cod Fillet, Community pharmacist

This is shocking!

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