Locum booking platform Locate a Locum has suggested that community pharmacies in rural areas are paying a ‘rural premium’ for locum rates, with average rates in Wales booked via its platform this summer increasing by £7.39 per hour to an average hourly rate of £45.32.

However, it found that locum rates across the UK as a whole were rising less slowly than other wages, with rates increasing at an average of 3.7% compared to the UK’s national average weekly wage growth of 5.2%, according to ONS figures.

The findings come from Locate a Locum’s analysis of over 56,610 locum pharmacist shifts booked via its platform between 1 July and 30 September 2022.

Locate a Locum suggested while that the locum market across the rest of the UK ‘appears to have entered a period of correction’, pharmacies in large rural areas were paying a ‘rural premium’, with average rates in Scotland and Wales exceeding £45 an hour.

Paul Day, director for the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), said that ‘the rule of economics dictate’ rates increases.

He explained: ‘By their nature, rural areas may have less local pharmacists in close proximity to the pharmacy so there can be issues of supply and demand which of course the rule of economics dictate will increase rates.

‘There can also be longer journeys to and from store and that means it takes more time to undertake a shift and therefore locums may charge more either directly for that time and travel costs, or factor that into their hourly rate,’ he said.

Janice Oman, NPA’s Scotland representation manager, described rising locum rates as ‘another financial headache for contractors across the UK’.

In June, Locate a Locum suggested that locum pharmacists were earning 14% more than in April 2021.

Ms Oman added: ‘The migration of many community pharmacists into general practice roles is a key factor in the sector’s workforce pressures.

‘It is no surprise to see there is a ‘rural premium’ for locums, including in parts of Scotland and Wales. What was at first a problem in rural and Highland areas has also become an issue in towns and cities too,’ she explained.

‘Unless more is done to tackle workforce issues, the pressures on pharmacy teams will only get worse.’

Staff shortages and high locum wages have been blamed for staff burnout and temporary pharmacy closures, as community pharmacies face a ‘perfect storm’ of trying to take on new activities alongside workforce pressures.

Judy Thomas, Director of Contractor Services at Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) said: 'Workforce challenges including pharmacist shortages continue to have an impact on the community pharmacy network across Wales. CPW continue to have discussions with Welsh Government, Health Boards, Health Education and Improvement Wales and others in addressing these issues.'

Last August, the PDA highlighted the impact of closures on patients, saying that ‘in rural communities, closure can mean patients have no realistic alternative’.

Responding to Locate a Locum’s findings, Elen Jones, RPS director for Wales, urged pharmacists, employers and trade unions to work ‘collaboratively’ together ‘to ensure patients can benefit consistently from access to high quality, adequately staffed, safe pharmacy services’.

In September, the GPhC said that pharmacy closures were ‘distressing for all involved’, ‘and potentially may raise concerns for patient safety’ if patients were unable to access medicines and services.

However, it said that ‘any action to maintain service continuity needs to take into account that restricting services in certain circumstances may be appropriate if it is necessary in the interests of safety’.

It added when pharmacies had to close temporarily, arrangements should be made for patient care and access to medicines.