Workload, staffing levels, whistleblowing, dispensing errors, self-checking and decisions about when a pharmacist might need to temporarily close a pharmacy due to workload pressure were all topics discussed in the BBC Inside Out programme in January.

Staffing levels in Boots UK pharmacies were questioned in the programme featuring ex Boots exployee Greg Lawton, PDA’s Mark Pitt and law and ethics specialist Joy Wingfield. Two undercover Boots employees spoke of workplace pressures that concerned them.

Boots UK’s Richard Bradley said that Boots pharmacies are safe, and appealed to pharmacists in the company to raise issues with him. The programme identified that dispensing errors within Boots were lower than average.

“Real and growing pressures”

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society said it supports an open and transparent culture leading to greater reporting and sharing of errors. “We recognise and appreciate the real and growing pressures pharmacists face in all settings, it is an incredibly tough time to be working in a patient facing role. This is driven in part through increasing demands from an increasing number of people with long-term conditions and the reduction in NHS funding for community pharmacy in England.

“We have consistently asked for greater resources to be given to pharmacy across Wales, Scotland and England to help pharmacists to do more to support the health and wellbeing of their communities.”

A statement from the PDA urged for stronger regulation from GPhC to change “unacceptable workplace pressures”. No fitness to practise cases have been brought against a pharmacy owner for failure to comply with standards, claims the organisation.

“With a lack of regulatory focus upon the employer, employers, especially the corporates, may assume that they are unlikely to get challenged by the regulator and so have little incentive to change their culture or behaviours. In such a scenario, unacceptable workplace pressures will continue, with consequences for patients and pharmacists alike, with the national media just waiting to shine a spotlight on our profession yet again,” said PDA.

GPhC response

GPhC looks into all concerns raised with them about pharmacy professionals and pharmacies, said chief executive Duncan Rudkin. “We make sure any pharmacy not meeting a standard quickly takes action to fix this. We know this is working well.”

A statement from Mr Rudkin said that the Council had “already carried out a robust and thorough investigation into all of the concerns raised by Mr Lawton and looked at evidence from a full range of sources, including evidence provided by Mr Lawton and our own regulatory activities.”

He added: “After carefully reviewing all the available evidence, we concluded that there was not sufficient evidence overall to suggest a risk to patient safety across the organisation. But we did use what we learned through that investigation into Mr Lawton’s concerns to inform the questions we now ask during inspections to help us make judgments on whether the pharmacy is meeting all of the standards, including in relation to staffing.”

“It is concerning that some pharmacy professionals are reporting they don’t feel able to raise concerns about pressures. We make clear to pharmacy owners in our standards that there must be a culture of openness, honesty and learning across all of their pharmacies. Employers, employees, the representative bodies, the unions and we as the regulator all need to work together to make sure that everyone working in pharmacy feels able to raise concerns, so that action can be taken where necessary and we can make sure that patients and the public receive safe and effective care.”


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