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For Primary Care| Top tips

Top Tips: Working as a Locum Pharmacist

Hassan Thwaini Offers Nine Top Tips for Pharmacists on Locum Work, Covering Registration, Personal Development, Finances, and Career Opportunities

Read This Article to Learn More About:
  • the essential competencies and training requirements for locum pharmacy work
  • the opportunities that locum work offers to pharmacists
  • alternative ways to develop a career in pharmacy.
Reflect on your learning and download our Reflection Record.

The career of a pharmacist can be varied, and there are an increasing number of job roles and career directions available to people in the industry. One possible career direction is that of locum pharmacy work, branching away from standard full-time employment at a single pharmacy. 

Generally speaking, a locum pharmacist is a pharmacist registered through the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) who is providing temporary services in a community pharmacy, hospital, or primary care network (PCN) setting, often working as a sole trader.1,2 Contrary to some people’s misconceptions, pharmacists can do locum work as soon as they are registered, without having to go directly into full-time employment.2

This article discusses the role of the locum pharmacist, exploring how pharmacists can get the most out of the role regardless of how long they have been qualified.

1. Keep Up to Date with Registration

Pharmacists cannot, and should not, work in any constituency for which they do not have appropriate accreditation. In England, Scotland, and Wales, an individual must be registered with the GPhC,3 and in Northern Ireland, they must be registered with the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland.4

GPhC Registration

Every pharmacist registered with the GPhC has a unique GPhC registration number, which they would usually receive after successfully completing their preregistration year and passing an assessment.5,6 Furthermore, to meet the standards for renewing their registration each year, pharmacists must demonstrate that they are keeping their knowledge up to date.7,8 As of October 2022, pharmacists must provide:7

  • four records of continuing professional development (CPD), at least two of which are planned events
  • one record of discussion with a peer
  • one reflective account.
It is useful for any pharmacist to make a note of their registration number, particularly when engaging in locum work—it is used by potential employers to check whether an individual is a qualified pharmacist, find out whether their GPhC registration and CPD are up to date, and access any relevant information concerning their fitness to practice.2,9 It is also a legal requirement to display this registration number, using a Responsible Pharmacist Notice, when an individual works as the responsible pharmacist at any pharmacy.10

2. Ensure that You Have the Essential Competencies and Accreditations for Locum Work

There are certain types of work that community pharmacies will commonly expect their locum pharmacists to carry out, and it is very useful for pharmacists to acquire the relevant training and qualifications for these key services (see Box 111–22). Many of these services relate to prescribing and medicines, and are part of the 2019–2024 Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework.11

Box 1: Key Services Provided by Locum Pharmacists in England11–22
  • Repeat dispensing
  • Disposal of unwanted medicines
  • Signposting and promotion of healthy lifestyles
  • MURs—private, in-depth consultations between a pharmacist and a patient about the patient’s medicines, how long they are taking them for, and what side effects they should be aware of. NHSE&I stopped commissioning MURs in 2021 in accordance with the 2019–2024 CPCF, but there are several similar medicines-related offerings that community pharmacies will expect locum pharmacists to perform
  • New Medicines Service—an advanced service in which pharmacists help people with a long-term condition to understand why they have been prescribed a new medicine and how to adhere to its dosing instructions. Completion of the NMS Self-Assessment of Readiness Framework is required before offering the service
  • Discharge Medicines Service—a programme to aid the reconciliation of medicines on the transition from hospital to primary care. Providers should have the skills required to provide the service, and the CPPE offers training on the topic
  • Community Pharmacy Consultation Service—an advanced service connecting patients with a minor illness or an urgent need for supply of a medicine with a community pharmacy. Providers should have the necessary competencies, and can assess their suitability and access training resources on the CPPE website
  • Safeguarding—training is available through ELFH and the CPPE.
MUR=medicines use review; NHSE&I=NHS England and NHS Improvement; CPCF=Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework; NMS=New Medicines Service; CPPE=Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education; ELFH=elearning for healthcare

NHS Smartcard

Locum pharmacists will also benefit hugely from having an NHS smartcard, which allows them to access personal and clinical patient information in both community and hospital settings.23 Before looking for locum work, it is best if a pharmacist attains locum pharmacy access, so that they can use their smartcard in all the pharmacies in which they work.23

3. Take Initiative, and Develop New Skills

Taking the initiative, and going above and beyond in the role, is an effective way for an individual to become established locally and—most importantly—improve patients’ wellbeing as effectively as they can. One way to do this is by completing the necessary training to perform additional services beyond the essential requirements, such as flu,24 travel,25 and COVID-1926 vaccinations or—for pharmacists who are further into their career—independent prescribing.27 Pharmacies will be more likely to retain a pharmacist’s services going forward if they have these skills, particularly the ones for which pharmacists are reimbursed, and may pay higher rates for them.

The Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education (CPPE)28 is an organisation that provides training modules for pharmacists on a variety of topics, both online and face to face. elearning for healthcare29 also offers a range of programmes developed in collaboration with Health Education England, the NHS, and professional bodies.

4. Instil Change Wherever You Work

A key benefit of being a locum pharmacist is the ability to gain insight into how different establishments work,2 and this puts locum pharmacists in a unique place to identify processes that are more robust or effective than others. 

Therefore, as well as providing healthcare services to a PCN, hospital, or community pharmacy, locum and newly appointed pharmacists can bring a new perspective to a workplace. If a locum pharmacist thinks that a certain process may be enhanced with a few minor adjustments, whether it relates to the organisation or interacting with patients, it is worth making suggestions in a productive way.  

When a pharmacist would like to help with implementing these kinds of improvements at a particular location, it may be beneficial for them to discuss trialling the change with a manager. If it works, this could not only improve the effectiveness of the pharmacy, but also lead to future employment for the individual pharmacist, such as a longer-term position with training or management opportunities. 

5. Understand Pharmacist Pay and Locum Rates

One benefit of working as a locum pharmacist is the ability to negotiate pay more easily. However, locum rates can fluctuate—in part because of the annual funding shortfall across community pharmacies, estimated at around £750 million in England alone30—so it is important that pharmacists are aware of the current average rates of pay and are able to use this information to ensure that they are being compensated fairly.

The most recent survey by the nation’s largest locum pharmacist agency, Locate a Locum, revealed that community pharmacists’ locum rates across the UK averaged £38.86 per hour in the third quarter of 2022, an increase of 14% from April 2021.31 According to these statistics, rates are generally lower than average in London (£34.73 per hour), but are as low as £28.06 per hour in Belfast.31,32 For certain individuals, it may therefore be worthwhile considering moving to areas with higher average pay, such as Scotland and Wales—pay for locum work averages £45.93 per hour in Scotland, and £45.32 per hour in Wales.31,32

That said, there is always scope for negotiation in any role, especially if the role and its pay do not seem to align. A pharmacist may wish to consider the following when discussing pay:

  • are they providing extra services in addition to the traditional role of a pharmacist?
  • are they commuting considerable distances to and from the pharmacy?
  • are they accepting work as an acting manager or as a second pharmacist?

Hospital and Practice-Based Pharmacists

Pharmacists’ pay works a little differently in hospitals and GP practices compared with community-based roles, as NHS pharmacists’ pay works on a band-based system.33 Locum clinical pharmacists usually start their career at band 6, for which hourly rates are around £18–22.33,34 Band 7 hourly rates are around £22–26, and roles from band 8 onwards are renumerated from around £26 to £50 or more per hour.34

As in community pharmacy, rates can be negotiated for locum work in hospitals and practices depending on the level of service being provided. If a locum pharmacist finds themselves carrying out duties that are above their pay grade—which may seem inevitable, given the current workforce shortages—this may be worth discussing with a manager or locum agency. 

6. Know Your Contractual Arrangements, and Consider Getting an Accountant

As with clinical guidelines, tax regulations are ever-changing, and keeping up with changes can be difficult. In many cases, locum pharmacists work as sole traders, so are paid outside of the off-payroll working rules (also known as IR35) and have to organise taxes independently.35–37 In other cases, particularly when organised through a recruitment agency with an umbrella company, locum roles may have alternative arrangements that can make payment and taxation a little easier, but can also make it more complicated.35–37

Having a good accountant to help with the legalities of tax can reduce this administrative burden, and they may also be able to identify costs that can be claimed as expenses. The Government’s Check Employment Status for Tax questionnaire38 and the Pharmacists’ Defence Association’s guidance36 are both useful tools for checking the classification of any employment situation.

7. Find and Develop a Support Bubble

Building a support bubble of other pharmacists can be particularly useful for a locum pharmacist, as locum work is, by its nature, more isolating than salaried work. A pharmacist’s support bubble could include a preregistration tutor, as well as any other pharmacists they meet in the course of their work. 

The world of pharmacy can be fun, variable, and—at times—confusing, and all pharmacists regularly deal with both everyday queries and unusual cases. Therefore, beyond providing social support, a pharmacist’s support bubble can also provide professional advice and assistance, such as by discussing atypical cases with them while maintaining anonymity. These discussions can also be used as a learning opportunity, both to inform decisions in similar future situations and to provide evidence of CPD in support of renewing a GPhC licence.7,8

8. Consider Alternative Career Pathways

The beauty of a pharmacy career lies in its diversity: in just 4 years, a pharmacist can work in a community pharmacy, on the wards of a hospital, in education, or in the production of medicines. Locum pharmacists in particular have the ability to pick and choose where and when they work, so they have more flexibility to make the time to learn a new skill and make their career more varied and enjoyable. Some possible additional skills that a locum pharmacist can develop are outlined in Box 2.

Box 2: Possible Skills for Pharmacists to Learn25,39–41
  • Cosmetics—following appropriate training, pharmacists can provide certain minimally invasive cosmetic procedures, including botox and dermal fillers
  • Travel clinic—many community pharmacies offer in-house travel clinics, in which a locum pharmacist can provide travel advice and travel vaccinations
  • Remote pharmacy—certain pharmacies and PCNs have adapted to the growing technological era and provide services that are entirely online. Many companies offer locum pharmacist positions that can be pursued from home.
PCN=primary care network

9. Utilise Useful Online Resources and Organisations

Any locum pharmacist will benefit from utilising the numerous educational websites and resources available to them. Some of the best places to find information, whether it be regarding fitness to practice, codes of conduct, clinical guidance, or policy change, are outlined in Box 3.

Box 3: Useful Resources
  • The NPA—a membership organisation aiming to support independent community pharmacies across the UK 
  • The RPS—a primary professional membership body for pharmacists and pharmacy, which provides information, resources, and support for its members
  • The PDA—an independent trade union and not-for-profit organisation for individual pharmacists and pharmacy students in the UK
  • The BNF, online or on the app, for accessing up-to-date information on medicines quickly
  • Local or national treatment guideline apps
  • A copy of Medicines, ethics, and practice, the RPS’ guide for good practice.

NPA=National Pharmacy Association; RPS=Royal Pharmaceutical Society; PDA=Pharmacists’ Defence Association; BNF=British National Formulary


Uninformed observers may consider pharmacy to be a relatively bland career, but pharmacists’ options are actually widely varied, and locum pharmacists benefit from a huge range of career choices. Any pharmacist can explore their options freely, and take the opportunity to focus on the aspects of the industry that resonate most with their values and goals as a healthcare professional.