THE union that represents UK pharmacists has said contractors accused of “rigging” vaccinator shifts may simply have taken advantage of technology to secure work.

It is alleged that eight pharmacists used bots – computer software that performs repetitive tasks – to book multiple shifts at the NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital in Glasgow as soon as they were advertised. 

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has said it is investigating “anomalies” in the booking system, but did not provide any further details.

The British Dental Association claimed the situation had led to dentists struggling to secure shifts while pharmacists claim pay disparities have led to major shortages of vaccinators and a delay in Scotland's roll-out.

One pharmacist claimed 13 shifts were left unfilled today at Glasgow's main centre at The Hydro.

The Pharmacists’ Defence Union (PDU) said it was seeking further information from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde about the alleged incident.

READ MORE: Health board investigating claims pharmacists 'rigged' vaccinator shift system 

Paul Day Director of the PDU said: “We haven’t seen the details.

“It seems that the allegation is that some of them have been using technology to be efficient.

“On that basis it’s important to note that the service to patients is unaffected and the cost to the taxpayer is unaffected. 

“This may be, that a contractor is being efficient in how they secure their work versus others who are being inefficient. 

“Using technology to secure jobs is not alien for people – they are locums and they rely on that work. 

“It might not be wrong – it might be, it depends exactly what they have allegedly done.

READ MORE: Glasgow residents aged 18-39 able to book vaccines as city battles to contain virus spikes 

“If I am reading the European Journal and I realise there is a contract available for me to do something and my competitors are not, that’s not me being unfair, that’s me securing work. 

“It’s public procurement, it should be transparent. If rules have been broken, the health board need to be clear what rules have been broken.”

At one point, contractors including pharmacists could expect to earn up to £700 for a 12.5 hour shift, the same as doctors and dentists.

However, the Scottish Government said the £66 per hour rate was never intended to be paid on an individual basis to locums who have no overheads or business costs. 

Pharmacist shifts rates were later downgraded for locums to £15 per hour towards the end of March, the same as nurses. 

However, companies such as Boots or Lloyds are still entitled to claim the £66 rate and can decide how much pharmacists are paid.

The change did not affect dentists, doctors and optometrists, something that pharmacists have deemed unfair. 

The downgrading of payments is said to have led to lower uptake among pharmacists and a shortage of vaccinators. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus Scotland: 161 new cases and no deaths 

Mr Day said: “There is a justifiable reason why self-employed contractors should be paid more than employed people.

"They are covering their own training, their own indemnity insurance, they are taking the risk that if they get sick, no one is going to cover this, unlike for NHS employees.

“The reason that the pharmacists are particularly aggrieved is that pharmacists can still do this arrangement at £66 per hour but only if they are employed by a contractor.

"They might be a multi-billion pound company and they will still get paid the £66 but the individual pharmacist might be getting paid £30. We are also clear that nurses aren’t paid enough money.”

One pharmacist said some vaccinators were using a browser refresh app to book shifts.

"The system was first shown to me by a dentist, and it’s not a ‘bot’ they are using the browser refresh app which can be found on the App Store for public use.

"People often use these to buy concert tickets as it can difficult to book tickets."

Another said it was unfair that staff who had worked throughout the pandemic without restrictions had been painted as “money grabbers’ and said around 45 vaccinator posts were being left unfilled every week.

He said: “Why are pharmacists being treated differently?

“We work alongside GPs and nurses routinely give out vaccinations ever year. I suppose NHS GGC haven’t mentioned the numerous instances of untrained contractors injecting patients with air and undiluted vaccine.

“Since the start of the pandemic I have been struggling to get any work as a locum, so I find the complaints about shortages of locums ridiculous.

“Retired pharmacists were called back to help out during the pandemic, pre-registration pharmacists were given provisional registration that allowed them to work and those same pharmacists are now able to work full time as the GPHC exams results were released. 

“This added more pharmacists to an already surplus, when the vaccination programme came about it allowed me work and bring in some income. 

He claimed the majority of shifts he worked at NHS Louisa Jordan had “an overwhelming” majority of dentists. 

“Since the pandemic started, dentists have been getting paid up up 80 per cent of their NHS wage and they are also being allowed to do the vaccination shifts. Yet pharmacists are deemed as money grabbers.”

Another pharmacist said: "That’s 13 shifts left uncovered today when pharmacists could have worked them.

"Now self employed pharmacists are sat at home because there’s no demand for us. I’ve worked one day since 6th May when I am available to work as a vaccinator but asking me to accept a pay cut in comparison to optoms and dentists is grossly unrealistic.

"The vaccine shifts finish at 7:30pm. They pay until 8:15pm. For what? It’s a waste of public money. 100 vaccinators a day, 7 days a week, for the last 4 months."

"Now they’ve got huge gaps to fill."

The NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital closed at the end of March, with mass vaccinations moved to The Hydro.

Neither NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde or the Scottish Government said there were any shortages of vaccinators.