BBC to investigate pharmacist workloads


In an investigative piece entitled “Boots: Pharmacists under Pressure?”, the broadcaster will look into concerns about workload pressures jeopardising patient safety

Boots UK (formerly Boots the Chemists), trading as Boots, is a leading pharmacy chain in the United Kingdom that also operates in Ireland, Norway and Thailand.

A special investigation by the BBC program Inside Out, to be shown on Monday night (8 Jan) UK time, will explore concerns about workload pressures among Boots staff.

“More than a million prescriptions a year and rising… an industry under pressure,” says the trailer.

“Behind the counter of the UK’s biggest pharmacy chain, some are worried.”

The documentary will hear from a former Boots’ professional standards manager about the staffing concerns he raised before he resigned more than two years ago.

UK pharmacist trade union, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), said it has contributed its views to the documentary.

“We provided industry expertise and evidence from the experiences of our members working for the company,” said the PDA in a statement.

“We will not see the programme before transmission; however, we believe it will reflect the working conditions for many pharmacists at the largest pharmacy multiple in the UK.

“Those who have the power to improve safety and working conditions in pharmacy will have a choice on how to respond to the issues raised in the programme. They can acknowledge and positively address the problems or attempt to deny what is portrayed and deflect blame.”

When contacted by UK magazine Pharmacy Business a Boots spokesperson said: “We are aware of the programme and have provided the BBC with our response. However, as we have not seen the programme we are unable to comment further at this time.”

This is not the first public controversy involving Boots’ workplace practices.

In 2016, The Guardian reported that some were accusing Boots of boosting its profits by directing their pharmacists to provide medicine-use reviews (MUR) to customers who didn’t need them, in order to claim public money from the NHS.

“Pharmacists at Boots are clearly being forced to treat MURs as a profit-making scheme for the company,” said PDA general secretary John Murphy at the time.

Boots denied the accusations.

“We make it clear to our colleagues that these services should not be undertaken inappropriately,” said a Boots spokesperson.

Workload worries in Australia

Pharmacist workloads have also been a topic of interest across Australian community pharmacy in recent years.

Research carried out by Monash University’s Emeritus Professor Colin Chapman in 2017, together with Master Research Australasia and the Pharmacists’ Support Service, found that pharmacists were more stressed than the Australian population.

Those aged under 30, and/or with less than 10 years of experience in the profession, reported the highest levels of stress, while those aged 26–29 and 30–39 reported a higher level of dissatisfaction with their work-life balance than did other groups.

Kay Dunkley from the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) told the AJP that: “Workload is also a considerable issue, and from the point of view of PSS, we get a lot of calls around workload.

“People feel their ability to actually perform their job properly is compromised and that concerns them, because apart from the fact that they don’t want to harm the public, they’re the ones that will bear the responsibility if they miss something or a dispensing error occurs,” she said.

According to a 2017 poll run by the AJP, nearly three-quarters of pharmacists would support greater controls on their workload.

Pharmaceutical Defence Limited (PDL) has reminded pharmacists in the past that section 11 of the Pharmacy Board of Australia Guidelines for Dispensing of Medicines states that a single pharmacist should only dispense 150-200 items per day.

The stated volumes of dispensing should be considered as a guide only, as for some pharmacies undertaking more complex dispensing, these levels could be too high.

Additional pharmacists and/or technicians should also be employed as the dispensing levels increase, read the guidelines.

‘Boots: Pharmacists under pressure?’ will be shown at 7.30pm GMT on BBC One on January 8 and at 10.45pm in Northern Ireland and Wales. It will be shown in Scotland at 8pm on BBC 2 on January 11.

The video will be available online shortly after broadcast here.

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  1. William

    Pretty typical of the likes of BBC and The Guardian to drum up causes to criticise. Just like ABC and Fairfax here.

  2. Andrew

    Pharmacy in England has been a shit-show for some time, Bill.

    It all started with this;

    Not lefties, not the feckless yoof, not agenda journalism.

  3. Emily Thorp

    Does anyone know a way to watch it in Australia? The link takes you to BBC iPlayer which only works in the UK

    • Sheshtyn Paola

      Hi Emily,
      The only way to access it is by using a VPN.
      Kind regards,

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