Staffing shortages push pharmacies to cut hours


Staffing shortages push pharmacies to cut hours

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closed sign CR Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Workforce shortages are forcing pharmacies to cut hours and consider closing [Photo: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash]

Pharmacies in Southland are cutting hours and considering closing their doors because they’re struggling to find pharmacists.

It’s a national problem and pharmacist Steve Jo is worried that unless things change, young people won’t see a future for themselves in the profession – especially not in New Zealand.

He opens his pharmacies to students and interns but says many want to swap industries or head abroad as soon as they finish their qualifications.

“They can see how hard we work and how much we get paid, and it just doesn’t make sense to them.”

“They can see how hard we work and how much we get paid, and it just doesn’t make sense to them"

Reducing hours

Countdown Pharmacy in Invercargill has reduced its weekday hours and closed over weekends because it can’t find staff – leaving just one pharmacy in the city open on a Sunday.

Jo co-owns five pharmacies in Gore, Riverton and Invercargill and often drives between them to give dispensary staff a break.

He considered closing one branch when he couldn’t find staff.

Despite offering above industry average salaries, he didn’t get any responses to job ads.

Jo was an early adopter of robotic dispensing, and more recently, he’s been training other staff as pharmacy accuracy check technicians to take pressure off his pharmacists.

“We’re lucky that we’ve had staff motivated to upskill themselves,” Jo said.

But his staff are tired: “Some of them are broken. They’re looking at career changes. I fear that we’re going to keep losing people when the borders open.”

“Everyone’s working their butts off to provide what people need.”

Susan Zhen is a final year student at the University of Otago and has already signed on to complete her internship in Australia where she’ll earn more and pay less in internship fees.

She’s been studying full time for four years and will have to do a year-long internship, but she’ll be paid the same as a tradie who’s been earning from day one of their training and won’t carry student debt, she said.

Wages must be addressed

Zhen believed addressing wages for pharmacists would help keep them in New Zealand.

“It’s an important role in health, but pharmacists are overworked and underpaid.”

Community pharmacists care for patients beyond their prescriptions checking in after surgery and suggesting options to keep them well – something they’re doing even more of as people struggle to get GP appointments.

Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand Chief Executive Andrew Gaudin said regional pharmacist shortages were now being felt nationwide and had been exacerbated by the pandemic.

On top of normal services, pharmacies had taken on Covid-19 vaccinations and rapid antigen test supervision and distribution while dealing with reduced staffing levels because of isolation requirements, he said.

"The guild have been raising the issue of pharmacist shortages with the government and Ministry of Health officials for many years,” Gaudin said.

Ministry of Health acting deputy director-general of health workforce Andrew Wilson says the ministry’s own analysis conducted last year forecast pharmacist numbers to rise by 500 by 2031.

Ministry expects pharmacists to join workforce

For context, about 200 pharmacy students graduate in New Zealand each year and the ministry is expecting 50 pharmacists to join the local workforce a year for the next nine years.

The ministry valued the significant role pharmacists played in the New Zealand health system, Wilson said, and it acknowledged the additional demands and pressures that Covid-19 has placed on pharmacy staff.

The ministry was working to address workforce shortages by funding internships, investing in postgraduate training and supporting graduates on their path to registration, he said.

Wilson said the Ministry had funded a Covid-19 pharmacist relief workforce via the Pharmacy Council to help where pharmacists were overworked or had to self-isolate.

“The ministry is also working with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to ensure critical health workers, who are eligible, can enter the country under current border settings,” he said.

However, retail pharmacists are not listed on Immigration New Zealand’s long term or regional skills shortage lists.

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