Locum Pharmacist Confessions

The Full Story To Being A Locum Pharmacist

What does being a locum pharmacist in the UK entail? Well, a locum pharmacist is essentially self-employed but works for other pharmacies, mainly to cover holidays, sickness or for the regular pharmacist to perform additional services.

Many newly qualified pharmacists works as a locum until they find a permanent position.

But for many it can continue to be a career, however, some may just use it in their spare time, to supplement their income.

So why work as a locum pharmacist? What are the good, the bad and the ugly parts of this career?


There are a lot of advantages to working as a locum.

A locum pharmacist in the UK can choose where they want to work and they are not tied to one place.

The standard hourly rate is also extremely good, better than being an employee– but this should be pre-agreed in advance before taking a booking.

Locumming can allow variation, you may come across many different prescribing habits, across many surgeries – perhaps even across multiple health boards.

You can pick and choose which areas you wish to work in – you can even work in towns and cities where you’ve never been before. When I first started out – I went as far north as Aberdeen, and as far west as the Island of Islay! Had I not worked as a locum, I probably would never have travelled to those cities.

You’ll also see different ways of working – some good, some bad. You can always transfer good working practice from one pharmacy to the next – and in doing so, you develop as a pharmacist and manager faster. You may also pick up on patients who are abusing over-the-counter medicines, since you may be travelling to multiple pharmacies in the same area.

And in comparison to being an employed pharmacist, you can control your entire yearly workload. Just plan ahead, and book as far ahead as possible taking time off when necessary for planned holidays. I knew of one pharmacist who worked non-stop for 6 months, taking on as much work as he could – just so he could then take the next 6 months off to travel around the world! I fail to think of any other jobs which would allow for that kind of flexibility.

Just remember though – please track where you have taken work, and which days they are on!

Best way to stop any confusion and prevent double bookings is to keep a diary. It may also be useful to keep track of payments and to also note this on the same diary.


That being said, there are some disadvantages to being a locum. While one advantage would be that you are not tied down to one company or workplace – it can be lonely, as you’re not part of an established team.

You fail to build rapport with staff that you work with, or with the patients that you see. You will be there for the day, but you usually can never be sure when you will be back.

Sometimes, there is no continuity in your work – so any queries you left behind will have to be dealt with by the next person.

One headache which you don’t have to worry about when being employed is having to pay your own tax – so you’ll need to remember to leave some cash to the side for the taxman!

If hitting an income over £50,000, it should be worth starting a limited company – which means you don’t have to pay the higher rate of tax (40%).

However, you can receive training from HMRC on paying taxes, or you can just hire an accountant to do it for you.

A good point to make is that you can claim expenses for certain things – since you are technically self-employed you can claim for

  • Household utilities since your home address is your office
  • Accountancy fees – if applies
  • Car and travel expenses
  • Indemnity and GPhC fees
  • Stationary and postage fees
  • Books (e.g. BNF, MEP)
  • Computer

There may be many more things you can claim, but its always advisable to check with an accountant or HMRC about this.

Where to start?

The first stage is to get your name out there. One way is to get some business cards made  and print copies of your CV– just hand them out at pharmacies whenever you are passing by one. Or you could send out letters to pharmacies in your surrounding area, detailing your accreditations, employment history,etc.

Aother idea would be going to local branch meetings and networking with other phrmacists – this is a good way of meeting pharmacy managers who need a locum – always a good idea to carry business cards to these meetings.

However, to cut out any hassle, you could contact a reputable locum pharmacist agency. Agencies can usually provide work nationwide, or in a specific area.

The advantage of an agency is they will negotiate rates, sort out small details with the locum co-ordinators/pharmacy managers for you. They are essentially middle-men – just tell them which area you will work in, which dates you will work and they do the rest!

It may be useful to also mention if you have any extra accreditations – this will make you stand out and will maximise your chances of getting work as close to home as possible.

With time, as the pharmacies will get to know you, (and if you’ve worked well) you’ll find they may even start requesting the agency for you by name.

You’ll also need to carry some form of professional indemnity insurance – such as with the PDA. This automatically covers you in case of any legal proceedings from medical malpractice.

In addition, its advisable to carry a bag with you when locuming and have certain items which will prove to be extremely useful.

  • BNF – should be one in store but always good idea to have your own
  • MEP – again should be one there but I like to carry one.
  • High energy lunch – self explanatory but sometimes there won’t be any shops or café’s to buy lunch from nearby. Time and money saver.
  • Sat-nav – Calculates the fastest route for you and especially useful when heavy traffic – the newer sat-navs will recalculate and send you down a different road
  • Diary – in case you get asked to be booked in for extra days!
  • Phone numbers of GPhC, The pharmacy where you’ll be working (in case you’re running late), and any friends who are pharmacists (for advice)

Where will you work?

Depending on availability and the area in which you are working, it will vary. When I first started out in Glasgow, I was covering most of Glasgow, but was willing to travel outside in quieter periods, just so I could book as many days as possible. And it varied across Boots, Lloyds and independent pharmacies. With it being a major city though – the majority of them happened to be Boots pharmacies.


You may also come across work in NHS hospitals. As a locum pharmacist in the UK– you are in theory eligible to work here. However, it would be advisable to have some experience first – a good locum pharmacist agency can help with meeting any additional training requirements (such as first aid, safeguarding for children and vulnerable adults, etc. )

If you did your pre-registration year in a hospital – this could give you a good foundation of knowledge sufficient for working in hospital.

And you could eventually be offered worked covering the wards and dispensary – and with time maybe even in the more specialist roles.

So you’ve got work, what next?

First of all, make sure the rate, any mileage rebates,etc are clear cut, before you’ve done the work. If you are booking through an agency, this shouldn’t be an issue, and the agency will have set guidelines that they follow, a well as standard hourly rates and mileage costs. However, for an independent, you may need clarification from the agency.

If booking yourself, always double check the shift the day before you turn up. It only takes one phone call!

Now a few things when you arrive:

  • Look presentable (think smart clothing, not jeans and T-shirt)
  • Arrive on time – in the event you are running late try to phone in advance or at least acknowledge that you’re late and apologize
  • Display your details on the Responsible Pharmacist Notice
  • Read any notes that have been left for you (if there are any)

So I’m working a shift, sit back and relax?

Locums can sometimes have a reputation for being lazy. And this could be since they are not officially employed by the company – they are contracted there for the day.

However, even though you are there for the day, you are working as part of a pharmacy team, so its essential you do what is required. And the knock on effect is the better your reputation  – the more work you will secure.

So get stuck in, don’t just sit in the back and check prescriptions – unless it is so busy that that would be the best use of your time.

If its quiet, always look for something else to do, or ask staff members if there is anything else that is required of you. Basically, everything that the regular pharmacist would have done.

If you are worried about getting to know about a pharmacy PMR system, or working practice in a company – you could always volunteer to work in a pharmacy to get to know the systems.

And by taking on a few afternoons unpaid – you could have more chance of getting paid work from them in the future.

In addition, by taking the time to know how each pharmacy does the “little things” you can quickly slot into that pharmacy’s way of working, and make things easier for the support staff (as well as for yourself!)

And at the end of each shift, try to tie up as many loose ends as possible. Or at least leave clear notes for the next days pharmacist. One well known annoyance are lazy locums who leave things unfinished, or undone. And the poor pharmacist the next day has to deal with the mess they’ve left behind! Don’t be that lazy locum, and try to leave the dispensary  in the way in which you would want it left for you.

Remember, pharmacy is a small world and managers will tell other managers about any experiences that they’ve had.

Which ties in with this – this is a good opportunity to leave your business card!


So in summary, being a locum pharmacist in the UK can be challenging, and may require a learning curve, in comparison to just being an employee. There are many factors to consider, such as the lack of a permanent work base and certain sense of instability on the location and frequency of work.

However, if you take the plunge, go with the right locum pharmacist agency and do your job with pride – it can lead to a lengthy and rewarding career. Many of those seemingly “bad points” may actually turn into good ones. You have ultimate control of where and when you work, if you want 6 months off – just don’t book for 6 months!

At the end of the day, it’s a case of weighing up everything and seeing if being a locum pharmacist will suit you and your abilities. Whatever decision you take, good luck!