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Members raising concerns regarding manipulation of Scottish locum market

Over recent months the PDA has received a growing number of reports from members in Scotland raising concerns about some of the practices being utilised by some community pharmacy companies in Scotland, in some cases apparently aided by locum agencies.

Mon 26th October 2020 The PDA

The advent of the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in significantly increased pressures on community pharmacy staff across the UK with reports of lack of adequate PPE and coronavirus safety measures, hugely increased workload and depressing increases in violence and abuse. Staffing of pharmacies has been an issue at times, with the need for self-isolation, however the pandemic should never be used as a mechanism to manipulate the locum market or abuse emergency arrangements provided by the NHS.

The PDA are now getting reports of what is beginning to look like attempts to drive down the locum rate in Scotland using several different mechanisms:

  • Taking advantage of the oversupply of locums, which the pandemic has caused, to drive down locum rates. Some may regard this as the expected effect of ‘market forces’ however it causes concern if there appears to be an element of orchestration.
  • Large chain multiples engaging locum agencies to import pharmacists from England into Scotland even though many locum pharmacists in Scotland, trained to provide NHS Scotland services, are available for work and being told they are not required. The bookings include 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.
  • Community pharmacies utilising the Health Board emergency COVID redeployment scheme which provides pharmacists to community pharmacy to help deal with emergencies. For example, one of our members reports 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.


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 which should be available to them via the Scottish NHS Pharmacy First Scheme due to a lack of required training in replacement locums from England. It is also unfair to take advantage of COVID planning, and tax-payer funded personnel, made available for genuine emergency situations only, to avoid hiring available locums.

We reiterate that 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 previously 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.

The PDA would like to hear from any members who have experienced similar issues to those described above


Read More:

PDA provide clarity and reassurances to locum pharmacists over rate negotiations

Evidence of some employers crying wolf over pharmacist shortages during pandemic

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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