The BBC’s Inside Out programme, ‘Boots: Pharmacists’ under pressure’ has sparked debate about workplace pressure, patient safety and staffing in community pharmacy

The documentary focused on the views of former Boots professional standards manager Greg Lawton that staffing levels were cause for concern – opinions he voiced to Boots and the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) two years ago while employed by Boots.

The programme (first aired 8 January) examined claims that pharmacists and their teams at the UK’s biggest pharmacy chain are under too much pressure and risk undermining patient safety as a result. In response, Boots told the BBC its pharmacies are not understaffed and it has an industry-leading patient safety record, with Richard Bradley, pharmacy director at Boots, adding: “Patient safety is the most important thing to me and to our pharmacists.”

Regulator responds

The programme also shone the spotlight on the GPhC with Mr Lawton stating that he presented the regulator with a 55-page witness statement based on his experiences and concerns shortly before resigning from Boots in 2015. The regulator later concluded there while Mr Lawton’s evidence was invaluable, there was not sufficient objective, independent evidence to suggest a risk to patient safety across Boots branches.

Speaking on the programme, Mr Lawton said: “The regulation around pharmacy is inadequate. We need regulatory standards to specify what the staffing levels must be in pharmacies.”

Addressing the claims made in the Inside Out programme, GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin said: “Our absolute priority is to make sure people using pharmacy services receive safe and effective care. We make sure any pharmacy not meeting a standard quickly takes action to fix this. We know this is working well.”

The GPhC also told the BBC that pharmacy owners are best placed to set staffing levels and that it is also providing patient safety guidance this year, which will stress that pharmacy owners must provide enough qualified staff.

What the sector says

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said it supports an open and transparent culture leading to greater reporting and sharing of errors. “We recognise and appreciate the real and growing pressures pharmacists face in all settings, it is an incredibly tough time to be working in a patient facing role.

“We have consistently asked for greater resources to be given to pharmacy across Wales, Scotland and England to help pharmacists to do more to support the health and wellbeing of their communities.”

Mark Koziol, chairman of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), urged for stronger regulation from the GPhC to change “unacceptable workplace pressures” and said the BBC programme must be a “wake-up call to Government” to hold the “multi-nationals who now run the pharmacy chains” to account.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) commented: “The BBC coverage highlighted the importance of fostering a learning culture in community pharmacy, which in turn underpins patient safety.  To that end, the National Pharmacy Association makes incident reporting forms available to independent pharmacies and shares the learning across the sector on a regular basis.”

Click here to catch up on the Inside Out programme.

Originally Published by Training Matters

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