Over recent months, many pharmacy contractors have reported increased staff shortages, leading to difficulties maintaining services and temporary closures in some instances.
Some pharmacies have been recruiting young people to their team with the help of the government-funded Kickstart scheme. The initiative helps 16-24 year olds on Universal Credit who are at risk of long-term unemployment to get a six month funded placement.
The NPA, who have working with recruitment agency Reed to enable independent pharmacies to take part in the initiative, have helped over 520 young unemployed people gain work experience and undertake training in pharmacies via the scheme.
J Cubbin & Sons, a group of independent community pharmacies serving the people of Neston, Heswall and Wallasey, have two kickstarters who have now become full-time members of staff.
Benjamin John Gill, 25, started his six-month Kickstart scheme with St. Paul’s Pharmacy in Wallasey, part of the J Cubbin and Sons group, in May 2021.
Benjamin applied to work in a community pharmacy after studying Biomedical Science at university.
“I’ve always been interested in the sciences so I wanted to carry on what I enjoyed,” he says.
He admits it was slightly daunting when he first joined.
“I started off as a counter assistant. I was a little out of the loop in some situations so there were things I couldn’t do.”
However four months into the scheme he was offered a full time, permanent role as a dispenser.
He says: “I decided to stick and stay. My responsibilities have now increased and I’m taking on the majority of things everyone else does. I'm doing occasional blister packs, sorting out acutes, doing prescriptions daily. I’m also asking my colleagues questions regularly about different medicines and what they do, so I can increase my own knowledge.
“I do see myself doing this for the foreseeable future. Being on this side of the counter in the pharmacy, it’s definitely opened up what needs to be done and what’s happens in a pharmacy. I would definitely advise other young people to consider working in a pharmacy. You need to dip your toes into it and try it out. It has been eye opening.”
Daniel Hales, the pharmacist at St Paul’s Pharmacy who supervised Benjamin, says having a kickstarter helped take some pressure off the team. “Having an extra pair of hands and someone who is front-facing helps to free up other members of staff to get on with all the side of things, like paperwork.
"The transition was easy. Benjamin worked in the service industry before so dealing with the public isn't new to him. The scheme is great because it provides opportunities to people who need them.”
Megan Twizell, 22, also managed to find long-term employment after doing the Kickstart scheme at Heswall Hills Pharmacy, part of the J Cubbin and Sons, in the Wirral.
Megan came from working with horses at a riding school to working as a full time dispenser and counter assistant. She is currently doing the NPA’s Dispensary Assistant course.
"It was so different from what I was doing in my first job,’ she says.
"It was hard to understand at first, compared to what I was used to do, but the team here were very helpful.
"It felt amazing to be given a full-time role here. It is good to be part of the national effort to help people against Covid-19."
She adds: “I'd definitely want to continue working in pharmacy and pursue a career in the dispensary. I like meeting the customers too, they're lovely around here.”
Caitlin Cubbin, the pharmacist at Heswall Hills Pharmacy who supervises Megan, said the Kickstart scheme was a “brilliant” initiative.
“It’s given us an extra member of staff who can be trained up the way we work, so there's no previous knowledge or previous habits we have to break. It's a brilliant scheme.”
She says: "You essentially have a funded member of staff who you can mould into what you want. Having Megan with us the last year, with the ongoing pandemic, gave us a huge amount of relief. We're only a small place and we don't have a huge budget for staff anyway.
“It's given her a qualification and it gave us a trained member of staff by the time we had to start providing the funding ourselves."