Alexandria, VA—Big chain drugstores CVS and Walgreens, as well as big box retailer Walmart, are reportedly cutting back pharmacy hours because they are having trouble finding qualified staff. Independent community pharmacies also report difficulty filling open positions.

A new survey released by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) found that pharmacy technicians continue to be in the highest demand (80%) among those responding to a recent survey, followed by clerks/front-end staff (43%), pharmacists (19%), and delivery drivers (17%). Overall, 67% reported having a difficult time filling open staff positions, which is a slight decrease from a survey conducted in the summer that indicated difficulties for about 75% of respondents.

“Independent pharmacy owners typically have more flexibility than chain pharmacies when it comes to personnel. They can offer more flexible hours and more attractive working conditions, for example. But unlike small businesses in other industries, they can’t easily raise prices to cover rising costs because PBMs and big insurance companies dictate prescription drug pricing,” said NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey, pharmacist, MBA. “Unfortunately, these ongoing pressures with the supply chain, PBMs, and our economy continue to make it a challenging time for the very pharmacies who, for so many patients, are the most accessible healthcare option. Policymakers must not only keep this in mind but work to advance pharmacy payment reforms that will better support pharmacy teams and the patients they serve.”

The NCPA survey was conducted from January 23 to 30, 2023. It was sent to approximately 8,000 independent pharmacy owners and managers, with approximately 330 responding.

The American Pharmacists Association (APhA), meanwhile, had a slightly different take on the issue. In a statement, the APhA said it “appreciates the attention given to recent moves by some pharmacies to cut pharmacy operating hours. Like other healthcare professionals, pharmacy teams across the country have been stressed and stretched delivering patient care that they are educated and trained to provide, while being inadequately staffed or supported in some cases. Appropriate staffing and workplace conditions are essential for pharmacy teams to safely deliver quality patient care. ”The group suggested that reduced operating hours will inconvenience patients while not improving the situation for pharmacy staff. “For pharmacists, because prescribers must continue to write prescriptions, the workload remains unchanged while pharmacy personnel will now have less time to do the work,” it pointed out. “Many pharmacists already work after closing to keep up with prescription volume. It is essential that appropriate pharmacy staffing is addressed, and pharmacy personnel well-being is recognized by employers and the public as an essential component for safe and effective patient care.”

Ilisa BG Bernstein, PharmD, JD, FAPhA, interim executive VP and CEO of APhA, suggested that some of the issue might be misunderstood, explaining, “Some are blaming reduced hours on a pharmacist shortage. It is incorrect to say that there is a shortage of pharmacists or pharmacy technicians. More accurately, there is a shortage of pharmacists and technicians willing to work under the current conditions. Pharmacy is a rewarding profession and pharmacists are experts in medication use. We need to stop conflating and blaming the current conditions on pharmacist or technician shortages, when it’s due to short-staffing and health care system faults.”

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