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Tesco accused of cancelling shifts if locums don't accept lower rates

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Tesco accused of cancelling shifts if locums don't accept lower rates

By Neil Trainis

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association has accused Tesco of demanding that locum pharmacists accept lower rates for shifts they have already agreed with the company, or have their bookings cancelled.

The PDA yesterday published screenshots of what it claimed were messages sent by Tesco to locums informing them of the new locum rates, which Pharmacy Network News reported on in June. One message said the new rates will apply to shifts that are already booked for and after July 18.

The PDA, which said some of its members personally informed it they had agreed shifts only to be later told by the pharmacy chain to accept less or their booking will be cancelled, said Tesco closed its Northallerton pharmacy yesterday because of what it described as “a national shortage of pharmacists".

The PDA also said the pharmacy will close this weekend. When asked by Independent Community Pharmacist for a response to the allegations, Tesco did not respond.

“If a locum shift was agreed in advance but is cancelled by the employer, resulting in a closure, the PDA believe no reasonable person would describe that as there being a shortage of pharmacists,” the PDA said.

PDA pens open letter to Government

Meanwhile, PDA chairman Mark Koziol has written to the government, chief pharmaceutical officers, NHS chief executives and the General Pharmaceutical Council and Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland to demand “urgent action” on what he described as "widespread" and "orchestrated" pharmacy closures across the UK by some large multiples.

Koziol said the PDA had evidence that revealed closures were being announced as much as four weeks in advance and that large companies had tried to reduce locums’ pre-agreed rates and cancelled shifts where no agreement was reached, resulting in closure.

He said large multiples had misled the public by telling them the closures were down to a “national shortage of pharmacists".

“Such statements are clearly untrue. These closures appear to be caused by commercial considerations and bring the reputation of the profession into question through this unethical practice,” Koziol said, accusing some large chains of acting “with impunity to restrict patients’ access to NHS-funded services and cause harm to patients rather than engage pharmacists appropriately.”

“Worse still, we believe that some multiple operators are now seeking to misdirect the healthcare systems into believing that this ‘national shortages’ façade can be used as a legitimate pretext to make a change to the pharmacy regulations,” he said.

“We assume that these are the regulations which currently require there to be a pharmacist in the pharmacy for it to be able to operate safely.”

CCA hits back at 'insulting' claims

The Company Chemists’ Association, which represents eight large pharmacy multiples, hit back at Koziol’s claims, describing them as “highly inflammatory” and insisting its members are contending with “a workforce crisis".

“The truth of the matter is that all pharmacy businesses are reporting that they are struggling to find the registered professionals needed to open their pharmacies,” the CCA said.

“Mark Koziol heard first-hand from contractors of all sizes at the recent [All Party Parliamentary Group on Pharmacy] inquiry of the difficulties they are facing in finding pharmacists and technicians to allow them to open.

“For him to deny what is plain to see is unbelievable and quite frankly insulting to all those frontline professionals who need the support that can only come from a co-ordinated approach to addressing workforce shortages across the whole of primary care.” 

The CCA accused the PDA of trying to mislead the government into believing there is no workforce crisis “in a vain attempt to continue to drive up the cost of providing healthcare across the UK".

The CCA said it will continue working with the government and NHS England to “establish the facts about the scale of the workforce crisis” and ensure patients’ needs are met.

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