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Why is recruitment in pharmacy so hard?


Why is recruitment in pharmacy so hard?

Young people think ‘why should I work in a pharmacy when I can work in a coffee shop where I’m not going to get abused?’ Peter Kelly explains…


Community pharmacy is on its knees. The sector has been starved of resources for years due to underfunding. It was hobbling along by sheer grit and superhuman resilience. That resilience was smashed to pieces during the pandemic and now a lot of pharmacy owners and pharmacy teams feel defeated.

For many pharmacy teams workloads are increasing. Stores near shops that have closed down, now have to deal with extra prescriptions. Medicine shortages I think we can all accepted now is an issue that is likely to be permanent and increasing perpetually, also adding to extra workload.

Logic would say increasing workload can be handled by increasing staff but here is the catch – it’s become difficult to maintain pre-pandemic staff numbers, never mind trying to increase staff numbers to deal with extra workload. Many of you may of notice Day Lewis recently paused the rollout of a new service which was very out of character for them. One suspects, but I cannot be sure, that was due to staff numbers.

So why is it so hard to recruit staff to work in a pharmacy? I spoke to a top pharmacy recruiter and they told me the recruitment process had become incredibly time-consuming.

They said it had become very difficult to recruit dispensers but they believe now, it is very hard to recruit for any position within the pharmacy. They said that often, when you place an ad for a position, you will get a large enough number of applications through the job advertising website. But when you start to go through the applications, only a tiny faction are suitable.

People apply for jobs they live hours away from, many people fill in the form but then are not contactable. Government policy states that people on benefits have to do all that they can to show that they are trying to get a job. What a great common sense policy to reduce the number of  people on benefits except nobody thought it through and looked at the unintended consequences. Job recruiters get tons of applications from people who are unsuitable, uninterested and not in a practical position to take on the job they are applying for. They are only applying to show that they are doing all they can to get a job. This wastes a huge amount of time for everyone involved. It is an inefficient policy. And a victory for ideology over pragmatism. Which is very much the political ethos of the day.

When you whittle through all the applications only a small few are suitable and most of these are young people looking for something temporary. Pharmacy students looking for summer work or post A level students taking a year out to travel and save money, looking to a six-month stint. So, the process of recruiting never ends. The idea that you might be able to recruit someone good now who will likely put in ten years service had become major wishful thinking. So, what has happened?



Brexit will definitely have played a factor in this. Pharmacy teams in the UK have majorly benefited from workers from other EU countries over the years. I personally have worked in pharmacies with people from Slovakia, Poland, Italy, Spain, France and Norway to name a few over the years and  all have been brilliant. This supply line of talent is now pretty much closed off. While I think Brexit has exacerbated the problem of recruitment, I do think even if it had not have happen we would have a problem.


The pandemic


Working during the pandemic was extremely stressful. The demands were colossal. Some of the confrontation pharmacy teams had to put up with was totally unacceptable. It pushed team members over the line into burnout. People left the sector and others took early retirement.

And it has been a complete struggle to replace them. Pharmacy teams also got a raw deal during the pandemic. I live in a house in London, two of my flatmates worked from home during the pandemic and got tax back to help them pay for additional bills (heating, electricity etc) because they worked from home.

In house shares, you split the bills evenly. My bills went up because they were working from home but I did not get any tax back for going to work which was much harder. I know I am not the only one in that position. That was unfair. Where is our tax back bonus?

Also, during the pandemic, there was loads of news features of pharmacy staff talking about the abuse they were receiving from patients. Some of that has carried on now with medicine shortages and longer wanting times. Young people see that and think ‘why should I work in a pharmacy when I can work in a coffee shop where people are not going to abuse me?’

Working in a pharmacy is much harder than working in a coffee shop and I believe people who work in pharmacies should be better paid to take that into account. The sector needs realistic funding to better paid people or the whole system will diminish due to inadequate staffing.



Peter Kelly is a community pharmacist based in London and stand-up comedian.

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