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Overcoming Workforce Challenges in Community Pharmacy

Jamal Butt
Apr 21, 2023 8:30:00 AM

The ability to recruit skilled employees varies by location but there is general recognition that there are huge issues recruiting and retaining pharmacists and support staff, resulting in locum pharmacists’ hourly rates skyrocketing.

This blog will discuss the impact of workforce challenges and share ideas to build resilience.

Workforce Issues during the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic created a sudden and unprecedented demand for healthcare services. With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, healthcare providers struggled to meet the needs of patients. The situation was further complicated by the fact that healthcare workers were at high risk of contracting the virus, leading to many becoming ill or having to isolate due to contact with infected patients. This resulted in a shortage of healthcare workers across all industries, including pharmacy.

Pharmacies were hit hard by the pandemic. With the increased demand for medications and medical supplies, pharmacies saw a surge in patient volumes. Additionally, the need for COVID-19 testing and vaccination added to the workload of pharmacists and technicians. As a result, pharmacies faced a shortage of staff, which created significant challenges in meeting the needs of patients.

One of the main reasons for the shortage of staff in pharmacies was the increased workload. This added pressure to the entire team, especially pharmacists and technicians who took on additional responsibilities, such as administering COVID-19 tests and vaccinations. This led to a significant increase in workload, making it difficult to keep up with the demand.

Another reason for the shortage of staff in pharmacies was the fear of contracting the virus. Healthcare workers, including pharmacy staff, were at high risk of contracting the virus due to their exposure to infected patients. This fear led many healthcare workers to take sick leave or quit altogether.

The shortage of staff in all healthcare settings had a significant impact on patient care. Patients experienced longer waiting times, delays in receiving medication, and difficulties in accessing healthcare services.

Long-term Effects on the Pharmacy Workforce

The pandemic placed an enormous strain on healthcare workers, including those in the pharmacy workforce. The increased workload, stress, and anxiety related to the pandemic have led to high levels of burnout among pharmacists and technicians.

Burnout is an occupational phenomenon and "is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.”

Burnout can have a long-term impact on the pharmacy workforce, leading to reduced job satisfaction, increased turnover rates, and decreased productivity.

The pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of the pharmacy workforce, particularly when it comes to staffing shortages. While the pandemic created an immediate need for additional staff, the long-term effects on the workforce are likely to persist. Many pharmacists and technicians have left the workforce due to burnout, illness, or other factors, whilst others have sought to move into a role in a Primary Care Network (PCN).

The pandemic led to changes in the roles of pharmacy staff. For example, pharmacists and technicians took on new responsibilities related to COVID-19 testing and vaccination. These changes in roles may have long-term effects on the workforce, as they require new skills and competencies.

Recruitment of Pharmacists into Primary Care Networks (PCNs)

The recruitment of pharmacists into PCNs in England has impacted community pharmacy recruitment. As PCNs continue to expand their role in patient care, many pharmacists are being drawn to these roles, leaving community pharmacies with a shortage of skilled professionals.

PCNs offer pharmacists the opportunity to work more closely with other healthcare providers, such as GPs and nurses, and to take on a wider range of responsibilities, including prescribing and medication reviews. This can be an attractive prospect for pharmacists who are looking to broaden their skills and advance their careers.

However, the increased demand for pharmacists in PCNs has left many community pharmacies struggling to recruit and retain skilled professionals. This can significantly impact patient care, as community pharmacists play a vital role in providing medication advice, managing long-term conditions, and ensuring the safe and effective use of medications.

To address this issue, there have been calls for greater investment and for more support to be provided to community pharmacists. This could include increased funding for training and development, as well as incentives to encourage pharmacists to work in community pharmacies.

Increasing Resilience to Cope with Workforce Issues

Workforce issues such as staffing shortages and increased workloads can pose significant challenges to pharmacies, affecting their ability to provide high-quality patient care. It is essential for pharmacies to build resilience to cope with these challenges and ensure continuity of service delivery. Here are some strategies that pharmacies can adopt to increase their resilience:

  1. Develop a contingency plan
    A contingency plan is critical for pharmacies to ensure they can continue operating during a crisis. Pharmacies should develop a plan that outlines how they will respond to different scenarios, such as staff shortages, supply chain disruptions, or natural disasters. If you don’t already have a Business Continuity Plan in place, the CPPE Business Continuity Management Guide is a great resource that can help you get started.

  2. Cross-train staff
    Pharmacists are experts in multi-tasking and managing competing priorities. Cross-training staff in different roles can help redistribute workload and ensure that essential services are maintained. By simplifying processes, pharmacies can reduce the training requirements and make it easier to maintain a fully trained team that is always able to complete essential daily, weekly and monthly tasks. Regularly reviewing and auditing SOPs can help identify staff that could be trained in additional tasks to help reduce the reliance on the pharmacist or technician.

  3. Leverage technology
    Technology can help pharmacies to streamline their operations, reduce errors, and improve communication. Software such as MedAdvisor that automates repeat prescription ordering and service appointment bookings reduces workload, making the pharmacy operation more resilient during staff shortages. Technology can also help with inventory management and patient communication.

  4. Foster a culture of resilience
    Building a culture of resilience means that all staff members understand their roles and responsibilities during a crisis. Pharmacies can hold regular training sessions, provide clear guidelines, and establish communication channels to ensure that everyone is prepared to respond in an emergency. Encouraging staff to talk openly about work pressures will enable the team to tackle the root cause. As well as empowering the team to take action to address the causative factors, it can also help them feel supported by their peers, as individuals will know that they are not alone and they are working together to address issues that contribute to workplace stress.

  5. Monitor and manage risk
    Pharmacies should identify potential risks and take steps to mitigate them. As part of the 2022/23 PQS requirements, all registered pharmacy professionals were required to complete the CPPE Risk management guide and pass the e-assessment.

    When assessing risk and subsequently agreeing on control measures, consider how changing processes could eliminate risk. As an example, pharmacies could eliminate the risk of ordering discontinued medication on behalf of patients by providing patients with the MedAdvisor app so that patients can easily order medication themselves. By using NHS login, the patient’s medication profile will be kept in sync with their GP record so they can only order current medication that their GP has authorised – they can’t order medication that their GP has discontinued. With MedAdvisor, the pharmacy team can see which items the patient has ordered directly from their GP and how many days’ supply they have left. Having visibility of this information allows the pharmacy team to manage the risk of patients running out of medication. This additional information is incredibly useful when short-staffed as prescriptions for patients who are about to run out of medication can be dispensed as a priority.

 Managing Workload

Here are some key strategies to help manage workload effectively:

  1. Prioritise tasks
    Pharmacists prioritise tasks to balance their workload on a daily basis. Even when highly skilled in managing workload, it can be very stressful having to meet tight deadlines or risk patients going without their medication. Taking time out to hold regular reviews with the pharmacy team to discuss how to reduce the number of urgent or critical tasks will reduce the need to fire-fight. Advance workload planning can help reduce the peaks and troughs and make it easier to keep on top of dispensing and checking, ultimately helping to reduce stress.

  2. Streamline processes
    Simplifying and streamlining processes can help pharmacists manage their workload more efficiently. For example, reducing the number of steps required to dispense a prescription or using technology to automate certain tasks can save time. Reviewing processes through the lens of Lean Six Sigma will help identify opportunities to eliminate waste and improve quality.

    Consider what steps or processes add value to the patient, and if possible, remove the steps that are not valuable, for example, phone calls from patients to ask if their prescription is ready. Patients want to know when their prescription is ready but don’t get any value from having to remember to call, making the phone call and then waiting for the answer. Using technology to inform the patient when their prescription is ready to collect removes a step in the process for the patient and the pharmacy team and reduces wasted time for both parties.

  3. Delegate tasks
    It’s useful to regularly review what tasks are being delegated to the pharmacy team to help distribute the workload. Reviewing SOP training records can help identify which team members would benefit from additional training so that the team is appropriately multi-skilled and competent to support when needed.

  4. Communicate with patients
    Communication is key in any healthcare setting. Pharmacists should communicate with patients about any delays or changes in service and provide updates on when medications will be ready. Using digital technology to message patients, either one to one or en masse will keep patients informed and improve patient satisfaction and loyalty.

  5. Take care of yourself
    Finally, it's important for pharmacists, and all members of the pharmacy team, to take care of themselves. This includes taking breaks, getting enough rest, and seeking support from colleagues or mental health professionals when needed. By prioritising self-care, pharmacy teams can better manage their workload and provide better care for their patients.


In conclusion, workforce issues can pose significant challenges to pharmacies, affecting their ability to provide high-quality patient care. Pharmacies can build resilience by developing contingency plans, cross-training staff, leveraging technology, fostering a culture of resilience, and monitoring and managing risk. By adopting these strategies, pharmacies can ensure continuity of service delivery and meet the healthcare needs of their communities during challenging times.

The long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the pharmacy workforce are likely to persist for some time. It will be important for pharmacies to address these issues to ensure that they are able to continue providing high-quality care to their patients.

MedAdvisor Medication Management App

When it comes to managing medication, the MedAdvisor solution is a popular choice. 


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