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Planned breaches of NHS contract damage pharmacy

The PDA are highlighting concerns of pharmacists about what appear to be deliberate breaches of the NHS contract by some community pharmacy businesses. These breaches have the potential to cause harm to patients and to damage the reputation of the profession.

Wed 9th March 2022 The PDA

Community pharmacy employers are in control of the working environment in their own pharmacies and have a responsibility to ensure safe staffing levels. Despite robust evidence highlighting there is no actual national shortage of pharmacists, it is acknowledged that some community pharmacy employers are struggling to fill vacancies and/or secure the services of a locum as many pharmacists are unwilling to work in the sector, and others plan to leave, as evidenced by recent PDA Surveys.

However, despite a locum population potentially being available to work in those pharmacies and the closure therefore being avoidable, some concerned pharmacists have told the PDA that some businesses are now explicitly saying that if locums will not agree to work for less than a so-called “maximum” hourly rate, the business will close the pharmacy for either part of, or the whole day.  Some of these full or part-day closures are being communicated significantly in advance of the actual day.

Community pharmacy businesses have a strict obligation to honour the NHS contract to communities so that patients can readily access information, pharmaceutical services and medicines.  If a pharmacy closes claiming there was no pharmacist available, when in fact a locum could have been engaged, that can only be a deliberate choice to breach the NHS contract and deny communities and patients the access to which they are entitled.

Rates paid to locums are just one of the costs of operating a pharmacy and there are no limits placed on dividends paid to shareholders or for executive pay at large pharmacy businesses. Locums, as self employed suppliers of services should be able to negotiate their own rates in a free market, subject to market forces of supply and demand.

As well as patients needing to access vital regular medication, pharmacy has been rightly hailed as the first port of call for those needing advice and treatment for common conditions. However there is a risk to public confidence being damaged, for both the sector and the profession, if the local pharmacy is deliberately closed in breach of the NHS contract.

It is important to note that the majority of PDA members who have recently raised these concerns are not locums, but are pharmacists employed by these companies questioning the ethics of such an approach by their employers, and concerned for the impact on patients. The PDA believe that if companies damage their own reputations, in the eyes of current and potential pharmacist employees, it will make matters even worse with regard to their recruitment and retention challenges.

While breaches of the NHS contract are in the first instance a matter for the commissioner of the services, the PDA believe this should also be of concern to the regulators (GPhC and PSNI) as it demonstrates deliberate action by those who are operating registered pharmacies to deprive communities of pharmaceutical services.

Anti-competitive behaviour?

The PDA is also aware of reports from some geographies where locum pharmacists believe that several pharmacy businesses seem to have simultaneously implemented identical so-called “maximum rates”.

If two or more pharmacy businesses were to be shown to have colluded to set maximum rates, the PDA believe that this could trigger a Competition & Markets Authority investigation.

The PDA have significant experience in supporting individuals who wish to make protected disclosures (whistle-blowing).

To confidentially contact the PDA, email


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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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