Two-thirds of community pharmacists are experiencing medicine supply chain issues every day, while 75% are experiencing supply-related aggression from patients.

This is according to the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee’s (PSNC) Pharmacy Pressures Survey, which found unsustainable pressures on community pharmacies were having a serious impact on pharmacy teams’ wellbeing, affecting patient services and putting businesses at risk.

The survey of more than 5,000 pharmacy premises and 1,000 pharmacy team members took place in early 2022, asking community pharmacy contractors and, separately, pharmacy staff, about the effects of pressures on them and their colleagues.

The survey found 67% of pharmacies were having to deal with medicine supply issues every day, 21% multiple times per week and 9% weekly. As a result, teams were spending an average of 5.3 hours per week trying to resolve these issues, leading to extra workload and stress for pharmacy teams and frustrated and inconvenienced patients.

More than half (51%) of pharmacy team members said that patients were negatively affected by supply chain issues daily, and 75% reported experiencing aggression from patients due to medicine supply issues.

Staff shortages

This is being compounded by the sector’s workforce crisis: 91% of pharmacy business owners and head office representatives said their sites were experiencing staff shortages.

Covid-19 related sickness and self-isolation were the most significant driver of staff shortages, and most cited difficulties recruiting staff or finding locums. The majority (98%) of business owner and head office respondents said that staff shortages had resulted in increased pressure on staff, and 85% said they resulted in increased working hours for staff.

Despite this, 71% said their businesses have had to reduce services or advice they offer to patients, and 51% have had to stop provision of nonessential services. And 23% said they had to reduce opening hours, with 7,598 hours of unexpected closures reported in one month, equivalent to 844.2 days of closures, and the average affected pharmacy losing more than 13.3 hours.

Concerningly, 82% of pharmacy team members also said that their work was having a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing and 49% cited patient abuse as one of the main reasons why they were not coping at work.

Cost concerns

Meanwhile, 80% of pharmacy companies reported that costs were significantly higher than last year. Most (96%) blamed rising staff wages and an increase in the price of utilities (65%) and transport (60%).

In turn, 61% of pharmacy business owners and head office representatives said they were concerned about their ability to keep their pharmacies open and 62% said they were concerned about the ability of their pharmacies to help patients.

Janet Morrison, PSNC chief executive, said the results of the survey made for ‘distressing reading’.

‘Pharmacy teams will do everything to ensure that patients get what they need, so it is particularly worrying to see the impact that pressures are starting to have on patients and the public as well,’ she said.

‘We must take these findings as the warning signal that they are: the pressures on community pharmacies – coming from a combination of workload, workforce and financial factors – are simply unreasonable, and unsustainable.’

The PSNC announced in February that it had entered negotiations with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) on the fourth year of the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF).