Pharmacists feel like low-paid ‘script monkeys’

Low pay and under-recognition are part of the reason pharmacists are feeling stressed, one stakeholder warns

The National Stress and Wellbeing Survey of Pharmacists, Intern Pharmacists and Pharmacy Students found that pharmacists as a profession are under more pressure than the average Australian, suffering stress comparable to doctors.

Chris Walton, CEO of the employee pharmacists’ union, says that low pay and increasing workloads are a big part of the problem, with some pharmacists feeling they’re being treated as “script monkeys”.

“Employee pharmacists are under significant stress and it is affecting their health and wellbeing,” he says.

“Their workload and responsibilities have increased significantly in recent years, but the recognition, rewards and opportunities have not increased.

“With the of cost of living rising including energy bills, rent and other essentials, their pay has flatlined in real terms with many on as little as $27 per hour,” Mr Walton told the AJP.

The average graduate pharmacist now earns $40,000 a year, while the average pharmacist earns $66,955 a year, PPA’s Community Pharmacists’ Employment and Remuneration Report found last month.

Despite the five-year university degree, pharmacists are among Australia’s lowest paid workers, the report found.

Mr Walton says an increasing number of pharmacists have been in touch with the union to report “stress, depression and other illnesses that they associate with the stress of the job they do and the low pay they are receiving”.

“Because of the pharmacy ownership structures, location rules and the significant amount of money required to buy into a pharmacy, the dream of owning your own pharmacy to get out of the rut of a low-paid job is further out of reach than ever before,” he says.

“Even if they can get around the rules which ringfence this sector against new businesses, pharmacy incomes are so low that workers do not qualify for a loan to raise the funds necessary to buy a pharmacy. 

“This leaves pharmacists feeling trapped in a low paid job with little chance of a better future.

“The role of pharmacist in our health system has increased over the years to include health consultations, vaccinations and script management – particularly for older people and the rising population with chronic conditions.

“There have also been significant increases in academic and registration requirements and requirements to educate and counsel patients on the safe use of medicines. Pay has not increased to reflect that change.

“This is one of the most important parts of the health workforce, where training is comparable with a doctor, yet they earn as little as $27 per hour, and now they’re having their penalty rates cut too.”

There is currently a Work Value case underway to lift pharmacists’ Award pay rate by up to 30%.

Mr Walton says that when fully implemented, the penalty rate cuts will mean “that it will actually cost them money to go to work on Sundays and public holidays because child care fees have not been reduced and transport is more costly on those days because public transport is less available”.

Increased workload is another factor, he says.

The Stress Survey pointed out that 30% of pharmacists are unhappy with their workload.

“The number of prescriptions being presented to pharmacies has increased significantly above the increase in the number of pharmacies and pharmacists,” he says. “Pharmacists have taken on additional responsibilities (as outlined above). 

“We have heard pharmacists say that they’re being turned into ‘script monkeys’ and they are required to do excessive numbers of scripts in a day, providing little or no opportunity for their professional role of medicine management.

 “Much of the additional work results from government initiatives that attempt to reduce the public health spend, transferring work from medical practitioners to pharmacists, such as asthma and diabetes management programs.

“This work benefits the community and provides health services in a more efficient way, but pharmacists have had no recognition of their increased role in the health system.”

PDL’s Curtis Ruhnau told the AJP last week that high workloads were a significant stressor, with some pharmacists taking stress home and worrying about the possibility of making a dispensing error.

He encouraged stressed pharmacists to talk to PDL or the Pharmacists’ Support Service.

AJP is reporting on stress affecting the pharmacy profession. Readers are invited to tell their stories, either by leaving comments below or getting in touch with the AJP team.

Readers who are distressed can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910.

PDL members can contact PDL on 1300 854 838.

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