Pharmacists say workload is driving people from profession

Community pharmacists tell of long hours, no breaks and being asked to forgo annual leave as pandemic increases pressure

Pharmacists say long hours in a high-stress environment with no breaks is driving them from well-paid community pharmacy jobs.

The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) last week called on the Government to create significant additional third-level pharmacy spaces for students and to allow chemists to recruit pharmacists from outside the EU.

The IPU, which despite its name is an employer industry body, said it is taking an average of five months currently to fill vacancies, and up to 12 months in some cases.

However, community pharmacists say the number of pharmacists is not the major issue.

One pharmacist The Irish Times spoke to this week recounted how a colleague gave up her four-day role as a community pharmacist to move to a hospital pharmacy role that paid just about half the salary for a full five-day week.

Another said that, from her perspective, “there is a huge struggle to employ pharmacists in the community due to poor working conditions”.

“I did a job interview where I was told I would not be entitled to any lunch break, I could eat my sandwich while working, and I ‘would adapt’ to this with time,” she said.

“I was also told it was preferred that I forgo annual leave during the nine-month contract as it would not suit them to find someone to cover me.”

She clarified that the pharmacy was paying for the holiday time she would have been due, but added that what pharmacists needed was the break from the work routine.

‘Difficult environment’

A third pharmacist we spoke to referred to the massive increase in work during the pandemic when many GP surgeries were no longer encouraging in-person visits. People went instead to pharmacies, which were open as essential retail all through lockdown.

And additional work was taken on during the pandemic, particularly with the Covid vaccination roll-out. However, he said, despite all the extra workload, no extra staff were hired.

“It is a difficult environment to work in at the moment. There are dangerous expectations,” he said. “They are expecting existing teams to absorb all this extra work. Patients will suffer.”

And he questioned the sense in looking for staff outside the EU. “We already pay among the highest salaries for pharmacists in the EU, and anyone in the EU who is qualified and meets the language requirement can work here, but they cannot recruit them. They’re not coming,” he said.

There are currently about 1,900 pharmacies around the State, with about 4,400 community pharmacists working in them.

The IPU accepts that there is an exodus of staff, with many going to hospital pharmacies or into industry or consulting in search of shorter hours or better work-life balance. In addition, some are cutting back to part-time work, it says.