Miraj Patel, managing director at My Locum Choice, gives the low-down on what contractors should expect when booking locum cover

Whether your pharmacy needs cover for a regular shift or for an extended period of time while you take a much-needed holiday, it's more than likely that as a pharmacy owner, you will have to book a locum at some point.

So what can contractors do to find the best locums, how can you integrate them within your pharmacy team and – crucially – how much should you expect to pay for a shift?

The Pharmacist’s reporter intern, Léa Legraien, spoke to Miraj Patel, managing director of My Locum Choice – a company that connects contractors with locums when they need them – to find out.

How much does it cost to book a locum through My Locum Choice?

We have an online platform that allows our clients to reduce a lot of admin time and for this reason we can charge a lower fee per booking. It costs £7 a shift (day) to find a locum.

What is the average daily rate for locums?

The national average is around £20 an hour. Rates tend to be higher in areas where there is more work, such as the Midlands, Lancashire and Manchester, and where people struggle to get locums.

Our company sets a minimum rate from £19 to £21 an hour. The biggest issue for locums right now is rates – they have been declining for many years. Seven years ago, my locum rate was between £21 and £23 during the week. Before my time, it was from £24 to £26 an hour.

But I think locums have bonded together to say what they want and at the same time, pharmacy owners have seen the value in a good locum and are willing to pay a little bit more.

Times are tough in pharmacy with the funding cuts disrupting the profession, so we try to negotiate the best rates for locums with clients. The cuts have impacted a lot of pharmacies’ revenues, taking a lot of money out of their prescriptions and services. But pharmacies will always need locums if their team members are going on holiday, get sick or if there is an emergency.

How can contractors find the best locums?  

Being a pharmacy manager myself and having been a locum for many years, I’ve realised that the problem was that the pharmacy wasn’t given enough information about the locum and vice versa.

We created an online platform where the locums can create their profile and pharmacy owners can register their branches. When they click on search, it marries the answers together and produces a list of locums that would suit their businesses.

How can pharmacies integrate locums into their teams?

It’s not integration on a deep level because this person is just coming in for a day or two. It’s an integration that keeps the business running.

First of all, one thing to understand is the business. When locums receive the work invitation, they get all the information about the business, what services it does and how it operates.

Secondly, locums are very flexible as they’re used to working in different environments so they can adapt the way they work and integrate quite quickly. Thirdly, sometimes, the pharmacy owners and the teams will have specific processes. They’ll integrate the locum because they understand that that person hasn’t been there before.

How can locums build an on-going relationship with patients?

Knowing your patients and what they come in for take time. Locums can build relationships in a different way. If they provide a good service on the day, patients will probably come back to the pharmacy. They might offer them a review and stay loyal to the pharmacy. Also, if the locum comes back, patients will remember them.

How does your company differentiate itself from others?

 My Locum Choice created something different in terms of the level of details you get about the locums. There are other booking platforms similar to ours but they don’t take into account the quality of the workers and how suitable they are for the business.

Our company is run by pharmacists, which draws on the experience we have. We service a lot of the independent market. Independents need locums but can’t find them because [often] they don’t know how to advertise and a lot of locums are bound to agencies.