Few UK community pharmacies have safe staffing levels ‘all the time’, a survey from the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) has suggested, with over three-quarters (76%) of pharmacists reporting their workplace as having insufficient levels of staff ‘half the time’ or more.

The survey, conducted in October and November last year, found that only 2% of the 1,337 pharmacists -- from across all the pharmacy sectors - who took part believed that their pharmacies had safe staffing levels ‘all of the time’. The figure had risen by 6% since the same question was asked in 2020.

In its report, the PDA said that 14% of respondents felt their pharmacy was never staffed at safe levels; 35% thought their pharmacy was safely staffed a ‘minority of the time’, and 26% thought it was safely staffed ‘around half the time’.

Whereas last year, around half (51%) of respondents said their pharmacies were working with unsafe staffing levels.

In its report, the PDA called on pharmacy employers to address issues of ‘recruitment and retention’ within the sector.

‘Some employers seem to find it difficult to accept that many pharmacists, given a choice, would rather work elsewhere,’ it said.

Worsening of working conditions

The report said that 2021 has seen an ‘almost universal worsening in working conditions in pharmacies’.

Patient access to a pharmacist was found to be lower than in previous years, which the PDA said was ‘most likely due to overstretched pharmacy teams having to multitask with vaccinations and consulting on minor ailments, meaning patients had to wait longer to be seen’.

The PDA also said that pharmacists were reporting the same levels of ‘inadequate rest breaks’ that were seen in 2019, suggesting ‘reversing signs of improvement in 2020’.

The survey found that 62% of respondents had an adequate rest either ‘none of the time’, the ‘minority of the time’, or ‘around half of the time’ in 2021, compared with 51% saying the same in 2020.

The PDA also referenced ‘worsening levels of respect for professional judgement, lower support when raising concerns, and much lower levels of physical safety in comparison to 2020’.

The survey also revealed that eight in 10 (80%) pharmacists felt unsafe at some point at work in 2021.

However, the PDA said that the survey concluded prior to the issues being reported around the availability of lateral flow testing kits and intimidation from anti-vax protests, so any incidents around this will not have been considered in the survey results.

In January, while lateral flow test supply was patchy around the country, some pharmacy staff faced ‘unfair’ and ‘abusive’ behaviour by customers who are unable to pick up testing kits.

Some pharmacies proving Covid vaccinations were targeted by anti-vaccination groups, which included vandalism and threats of legal action.