Nearly double the number of pharmacists worked as locums in 2022 than in 2021, the recently published community pharmacy workforce survey has suggested.

But locum pharmacists worked fewer hours on average in autumn 2022 than the previous year.

Paul Day, the director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), has suggested that a high-pressure working environment was likely to be responsible for many pharmacists choosing to work as locums.

In autumn 2022, locum pharmacists provided an estimated 219,080 hours a week across the whole of England, compared to 171,880 in 2021, based on an average 40-hour working week, according to NHS England’s community pharmacy workforce survey.

But while this made up the equivalent of 5477 full-time roles, these hours were worked by an estimated 12,126 locum pharmacists, meaning that each worked an average of around 18 hours per week.

This was fewer than the average of 23 hours per week worked by locum pharmacists in 2021, when around 7,451 locum pharmacists worked the equivalent of 4297 full-time roles.

PDA director Mr Day told The Pharmacist that it was ‘no surprise that many pharmacists are not prepared to take employed roles in the sector’, when survey findings from Community Pharmacy England suggest that 78% of staff feel their work is having a ‘negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing’.

He added: ‘Employers have a responsibility for the health and safety of all those they employ, and they control the working environment, so it is them who can make improvements that mean more will be willing to accept those roles.’

In August last year, immediately before the workforce survey was undertaken, staff shortages and high locum wages were blamed for staff burnout and temporary pharmacy closures, as community pharmacies faced a ‘perfect storm’ of trying to take on new activities alongside workforce pressures.

Jonathon Clarke, chief executive and founder of locum booking platform Locate a Locum, said that the survey confirmed what the company had been seeing within the market, ‘with an increase in the number of pharmacists moving to locum roles where they value working flexibly and being in control of when and where they work’.

He added that higher hourly rates might also mean that locums would have to work less hours to earn the same amount.

‘We found that average locum rates increased by 19% in 2022 [financial year 2022/23] on the previous year – potentially meaning that locums would have to work less to generate the same earning power, although we have not seen internal data to reflect this reduction in working hours,’ he said.