PDA provide clarity and reassurances to locum pharmacists over rate negotiations – COVID update 13

Around a third of PDA’s 30,000 members are full time locums or have portfolio careers and this update relates to recent comments about the agreement of locum rates during the COVID19 crisis period.

Mon 30th March 2020 The PDA

The PDA is providing some clarification and reassurance to locum pharmacists about the agreement of locum rates during the COVID19 crisis period.

We are aware that the GPhC has raised a concern about locums who they have been told may be exploiting the crisis. In a recent statement the GPhC said;

“Profiteering to take selfish advantage of the current challenging situation, whether with prices of shortage products or locum rates, risks bringing the profession into disrepute at a time when public confidence generally is so fragile, and so important.”

Regrettably some pharmacy companies and locum agencies are now threatening to refer locums, who are seeking to negotiate higher rates, to the GPhC.  We therefore wish to offer some clarity and reassurances to locum pharmacists about this issue.

Rates for community pharmacy locum assignments must be individually negotiated between the locum and client or through a locum agency. This is an important element of a free market arrangement consistent with the expectations of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA); the ability to negotiate prices for a job is a factor taken into account by the HMRC when determining the self-employed status of a locum.  Please note there are separate rules and price caps for NHS agency pharmacists.

The PDA has taken expert legal opinion and it is unlawful for employers acting together, or by conspiring with a locum agency(ies) to seek to manipulate market rates and inhibit free market conditions. The CMA has extensive enforcement powers in this respect including punitive fines and custodial sentences for directors and owners.

Where we receive evidence of employers and other organisations acting unlawfully, we will have no hesitation in referring any anti-competitive cartel behaviour to the CMA, where necessary.

It is important to recognise however, that the same anti-competition rules for business also apply to locum pharmacists. Any chat rooms, organised groups or collectives of locums who discuss how they might seek to fix a minimum market rates or boycott pharmacies and particularly those who are seen to encourage others to take advantage of the pandemic situation, run a similar risk of being referred to the CMA by employers.  The PDA is aware that complaints to the CMA have been made previously in recent years.

Any pharmacist seen to be involved in such anti-competitive actions also runs the risk of damaging the reputation and the image of the profession, notwithstanding exposing themselves to a criminal investigation. This was demonstrated by the shameful behaviour of a chain of pharmacies selling paracetamol suspension for £19.99 which was recently reported extensively on national television.

We fully understand the sentiments of the GPhC in so far as it relates to behaviour that could undermine wider public confidence in the profession and we support these concerns. However, the GPhC has no other legitimate regulatory interest in the commercial rates agreed between locums and their clients.  To refer a locum to the GPhC for simply negotiating a higher hourly rate would be an absurdity and an abuse of the regulatory system.

We know that in general rates have not kept up with inflation and since the global financial crisis, there have always been a range of rates agreed. This occurs with all products in the shops and services provided elsewhere; it is the basis of a free market economy operating under a supply and demand model.

Many factors influence negotiations around locum rates including:

  • Receiving multiple offers of bookings for the same day and choosing the most attractive rate
  • Locums who might otherwise have non-pharmacy or domestic plans but are prepared to alter these because a higher rate is being offered as recompense for the inconvenience and disruption
  • Some locums chose to increase their locum rate as part of an annual inflationary review
  • Some pharmacies are much busier than other, require specialised accreditation or are notorious for being difficult to work in and present additional risks to the pharmacist.

Locum members who act responsibly can rely upon the PDA to robustly defend them in the event of a regulatory complaint, or indeed any other complaint, made by an employer or locum agency.

You can read about some of PDA’s other activity on behalf of locums during this crisis period here.

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England; Company No 4746656.

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is an appointed representative in respect of insurance mediation activities only of
The Pharmacy Insurance Agency Limited which is registered in England and Wales under company number 2591975
and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Register No 307063)

The PDA Union is recognised by the Certification Officer as an independent trade union.

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