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Why Capitalism has Failed UK Pharmacy

It came to the end of my first year of university and the demoralising realisation came that the arbitrary numbers on my banking app were low. This led me to go on a spam application spree on Indeed for any work I could find. The first organisation to get back to me was a pharmacy about twenty minutes from my house who offered me fifty hours a week, so naturally I grabbed the opportunity. As I had worked in Pharmacy part-time while doing my A-Levels I was already aware of how unperfect pharmacies can be; yet three months of working every opening hour of this pharmacy has showed me even more how dysfunctional UK pharmacy is. Similarly, to many of the dysfunctional privatised institutions in our society, the root of the problem in UK pharmacy is the way it must function around the capitalist-based free market where profit is put over quality of service and care for people,#which should be its only motivation. In this article, I will be outlining how Capitalism is failing both pharmacy workers and patients, and only benefiting the small minority of people who are in control of this crucial healthcare institution.

Despite my deep frustration as an employee working in pharmacy, it’s important to state that objectively pharmacy is most of all failing patients. There is unprecedented amount of drugs shortages in the UK now, with there being 161 drug shortages as of September 2023. The most common explanation cited for this has been the effect of Brexit. To a certain extent this is valid; the United Kingdom had to leave the European Mmedicine Agency, meaning separate regulations for drug approval have had to be established. This leads to long delays getting medicines into the UK market and increases costs, leading the price of drugs to go over the drug tariff (the amount the NHS will reimburse Pharmacies for dispensing a prescribed item). Furthermore, staff shortages have occurred in Pharmaceutical distribution after Brexit, slowing down the transportation of prescription items which raises costs and therefore raises prices - which is why there is a shortage in medicines such as Letrozole (used for treating breast cancer).

However, Brexit has just exacerbated problems that the nature of Capitalism had produced in the first place, with the characteristics of low wages and inefficiency. Furthermore, there is a new trend around stockpiling from pharmaceutical suppliers. Companies are stockpiling medicines and raising the price they are sold to community pharmacies above drug tariff, so community pharmacies will not buy them as they will make no profit on them. This leads to the Department of Health and Social Care to eventually raise the drug tariff value, meaning community pharmacies are now able to buy them and the supplier will make even more money. As a result of this, there will be an extended period of time where patients will go without essential medicines such as Eplerenone for blood pressure or cholesterol drugs such as Atorvastatin, which was the key crisis shortage in July/August this year.

The privatisation of pharmaceutical suppliers has led to unprecedented shortages that are extremely dangerous to patients. Elderly, less-abled patients have been forced to visit multiple pharmacies in order to find one that has their essential medicine in stock.

The epidemic of drug shortages has also led to increased aggression towards staff as patients are rightly frustrated by the lack of supply for medicines they need. It has been found by the Pharmaceutical Journal that 44% of pharmacy have experienced an increase in aggression when patients have been told they lack stock for a prescribed drug. I know that I felt aggression from customers when lacking stock almost on a daily basis, when the person least at fault for these problems is the poorly paid worker in the community pharmacy. Failures of the capitalism are therefore left on the horrifically underpaid worker to face the backlash instead of the capitalist class who have caused the mayhem for their own financial gain.

That takes me onto the horrific conditions and pay that privatisation in community pharmacies brings for pharmacy workers. The average wage for a pharmacy dispenser in the UK is £11.03 per hour for the responsibilities of locating the vast number of medicines to fulfil prescriptions accurately, doing the order for medicines and giving basic medical advice for patients enquires. These are highly specialised responsibilities which took me around a year and a half to fully grasp. On top of the relentless nature of the day with very busy shops due to the increased closures of pharmacies and the increased responsibilities given to pharmacies - such as vaccinations and blood tests - and the cost of living crisis, pharmacy workers are increasingly worse off. This has led to dreadful staff retention in pharmacy with 73% of pharmacy workers considering leaving in 2022. Increased staff loss leads to an even heavier burden on the pharmacy staff who remain. This falls into the basic Marxist theory that the worker becomes poorer the more wealth that they produce for the capitalist class. The pharmacy worker has become poorer both financially and emotionally. The stress caused by frustration of patients and unsustainable amount of responsibility due to lack of staff made my life quality decline significantly in the three months I was working in the pharmacy.

This misery is the reward the United Kingdom gives to people who provide an essential service. Like with the NHS, any thanks you will ever see given by those in Westminster (albeit rarely seen with pharmacy workers) is meaningless. Without Pharmacy dispensers, counter assistants and Pharmacists, lives would be lost. This essential institution should not be seen as a business with the focal bottom line of profit. It is essential that pharmacies put patients over profit, which requires a move away from privatisation. The first step to this is that the workers in the pharmacies who maintain the running of this critical process are put at the forefront of priorities. Fair wages and conditions would attract people to the profession as people in pharmacies know the importance of their jobs and care about doing it well, yet need to feel secure. This would require a move to state ownership of community pharmacies as their existence within the free market will always prioritise profit, meaning wages will continue to be slashed in comparison to inflation.

Capitalism and privatisation have failed UK pharmacies. Patients and pharmacy workers cannot stand to be pushed to their limits anymore by this for-profit system integrated into such a crucial institution. The move away from privatisation needs to be soon or the problems outlined will begin to see even scarier outcomes.


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