'Bear with us' plea as pharmacist shortage hits community chemists

A limited number of chemists/pharmacies will be open over the holiday period.

Chemists across Norfolk and Waveney are being hit by a "worst ever" shortage of pharmacists. - Credit: Archant © 2011

'Does anyone know if the pharmacy is open today?' is a question being regularly asked on social media community platforms by frustrated locals.

Whereas people might have always expected their local chemist to be able to action their prescriptions, it is not always the case across east Norfolk where chemists are frequently without a pharmacist.

"It is incredibly challenging," says Tony Dean, chief officer of the Norfolk Local Pharmaceutical Committee.

From left: Chief Officer Norfolk Local Community Pharmacies Tony Dean, Jeremy Hunt Health Secretary,

Tony Dean, chief officer of the Norfolk Local Pharmaceutical Committee, pictured far left, says a pharmacist shortage is hitting hard in rural Norfolk. - Credit: Archant

"There is a national shortage of pharmacists, and has been for a number of years, which is being disproportionately felt in Norfolk.

"Recruiting new young pharmacists is easier for an urban area where there are things for young professional people to do.

"While Norfolk is absolutely gorgeous it is not particularly exciting for a 23 or 24 year old."

Adding to the problem was the creation of some 50 new pharmacy roles in the Primary Care Network, without any assessment of the effect those changes could have, he said.

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"You cannot take that number out of a fairly static workforce without it having an impact," he said.

The two-pronged blow to numbers also came at the end of an intense 18 months for overworked pharmacists who were only now able to take holiday and days off.

"A pharmacy is a business and only closes as a last resort. They are doing everything they can to stay open," Mr Dean said.

"There is absolutely no slack in the system on the back of 18 months when they are tired and exhausted."

Mr Dean, who represents 182 pharmacies across Norfolk and Waveney, said  for many people it was not just a matter of delayed prescriptions it was also advice about minor illnesses and the delivery of clinical services like flu jabs they were missing out on.

He added there were "extreme measures" being looked at to attract professionals to the area.

"We understand how incredibly difficult it is for patients," he said, adding: "But it's not the pharmacies fault. We would ask people to bear with us."

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Borough and county councillor for Hemsby James Bensly said he was aware of local frustration about pharmacy opening hours due to a shortage of pharmacists. - Credit: Archant

James Bensly, borough and county councillor for Hemsby, said there was frustration in the village and beyond.

He said he had heard several anecdotal reports of people spending a long time in Covid-safe queues only to find there was no pharmacist on duty and they had wasted their time.