Locum pharmacy overview

This page contains guidance for those who are already working as a locum, and also for those who are thinking of becoming a locum pharmacist.


This page provides information about common enquires made to Pharmacist Support by people considering becoming a locum pharmacist, or from those who are already practising locum pharmacists.

Locum pharmacists are an integral part of the pharmaceutical workforce, and for some the attractions of being a locum pharmacist are clear. You can choose your own hours, you can decide where you would like to work and often the pay can be very good.

Whilst locums can often command a high wage, the increasing number of registered pharmacists in Britain has led to tough competition for jobs. Increasingly, reports point to a drop in the hourly rate paid to locums.

Self-employed or employee

Ordinarily locums are classed as self-employed, meaning that they will be responsible for paying their own tax and national insurance (NI) contributions and keeping their accounts in order and up-to-date. The amount and type of NI contribution paid will depend on the amount of money earned.

It is important to establish employment status at the very outset, as this will determine who is responsible for making tax/ NI contribution payments.

A person who starts self-employed or contracted work and is responsible for her/his own tax and/or NI contributions has a duty to notify the HMRC within three months of the start of that activity or s/he could be liable for a financial penalty. For further information, see Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) website.

The HMRC website also has specific advice for locum pharmacists.

According to HMRC guidance, locums are more likely to be self-employed if they:-

  • are engaged on a seasonal or daily basis
  • perform only the statutory duties of a pharmacist (dispensing and supervising the sale of pharmacy only medicine and advising on medicines for the treatment of common ailments)
  • are not subject to grievances/disciplinary procedures.

For further information, see the Particular occupations: locum pharmacists section of the HMRC website.

If you are a member of a trade union you can contact them for further clarification of your employment status. You could also contact an organisation such as the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) or your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) for further guidance. For contact details, see Useful organisations below.

Pharmacist Support can refer you for free and confidential employment advice provided by trained Citizens Advice advisers. They will be able to help you to ascertain whether or not you are self-employed. If you would like to be referred,  contact us on our general enquiry line: 0808 168 2233, or email us at info@pharmacistsupport.org.

Contract for services

It is advisable to have a written contract for services. Without this it is difficult to settle disputes that may arise and it can also add uncertainty to employment status and tax liability. The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) cites the absence of a written agreement as being the main source of difficulty for them when advising their locum members.

All workers have the right to negotiate terms of contract including notice period to protect themselves. However, some locums have experienced difficulties even when they have a contract, as an employer may suggest contractual changes that could potentially be detrimental to the locum. If the contract is breached, the locum could  seek advice from their trade union or an organisation such as CAB with regards a possible claim through the court via the small claims track.

National Pharmaceutical Association (NPA) members can see their standardised contract for locum pharmacists on their website.

Employment rights

Many of the basic employment rights that apply to employees in the UK do not apply to someone who is self-employed. For example:-

  • statutory sick pay
  • paid holidays
  • paid maternity leave
  • redundancy payment
  • protection from unfair dismissal
  • right to notice.

Self-employed workers are entitled to certain basic employment rights, examples include the right to take maternity leave (but not necessarily paid maternity leave) and the right to take rest breaks and holidays (again, not necessarily paid).

Agency workers who work for the same end user for more than 12 weeks can acquire rights to be treated comparably to other workers/employees. Examples include the ability to use child care schemes and comparable pay.

For further information about basic employment rights, see the government website.

Discrimination law

All workers have the right not to be unlawfully discriminated against. For further information, ask your trade union, see the online guide from the Citizens Advice guide or visit the government website.

Financial considerations

As locums do not have employment rights such as statutory sick pay and paid holidays, it is advisable to plan ahead for the unexpected, for example, illness, or for other events such as starting a family or holidays.

Also, as work is not guaranteed, it makes sense to prepare for periods of unemployment. If you are not working or your work is sporadic, Pharmacist Support can refer you for free and confidential benefit advice provided by a specialist Citizens Advice adviser. They can help you with, for example, a benefits check to ensure that you are claiming your full entitlement. If you would like to be referred, you can contact us. For full contact details see the Self-employed or employee section.

Money Helper is a free service set up by the government to help people make the most of their money. For budgeting and money-managing advice see the Money Helper website.

As self-employed people are not entitled to statutory sick pay, locums might want to consider getting financial protection to cover themselves in the event of illness, accidents or disability. Illness insurance can be a means of ensuring that you have an income in times like these.

Illness insurance

There are many different types of illness insurance available. Many policies will only cover certain illnesses and many do not cover self-employed people. Ordinarily, there is a waiting time before payment begins, and some policies will only pay out for a limited time. You will need to check your policy carefully to make sure it is the right one for you. For further information on illness protection insurance, and the advantages and disadvantages, see the Citizens Advice website.


Self-employed people are entitled to the basic state pension as long as they have enough NI contributions or credits.

Given that locums often have earnings fluctuations due to irregular working patterns, come retirement time they may find that they do not have a full NI contribution record and this could affect the amount of state pension received.

If you are unsure of your entitlement, you can ask for a state pension estimate. This will tell you what you are likely to get when you retire. You can call the Future Pension Centre on 0845 3000 168 or you can request a statement online via the government website.

If you have gaps in your NI contributions you might be able to pay voluntary contributions. This could help to increase your state pension on retirement. For full details of how to pay voluntary contributions, eligibility criteria for paying voluntary contributions and how to check your NI record see the government website.

Many people find that the basic state pension is not enough to secure a comfortable retirement. An option is to take out and make payments into a personal pension plan. Any contributions made to a pension plan will be subject to income tax relief. For further information on income tax relief on pension contributions, see the HMRC website.

The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS)

TPAS now comes under the Money Helper umbrella. This service provides free information about all types of pensions. For further information see the Money Helper website.

Staff benefits

Locums do not enjoy the same benefits that an employee might. Staff retail discount, employee share schemes, membership fees for other bodies and staff training, for example, are often limited to workers who are classified as employees.  Some private or small group pharmacies may still offer incentives such as a staff discount.


Locums will need to keep abreast of new services in order to remain an attractive proposition to prospective employers. Pharmacists who are unable to provide services such as Flu vaccinations and New Medicine Services (NMS) will be less likely to get work. See the CPE website for further information on flu vaccination training and the PSNC website for further information on NMS.

Smartcard Registration

Smartcards allow access to patient information in a secure manner. Locums will need a smartcard that allows them to work at multiple sites. They should request a user profile registered on the generic code for a locum pharmacy which is FFFFF. This will allow a locum to work in any EPS Release 2 enabled pharmacy in England.

Local NHS England teams are responsible for commissioning local registration authorities (RAs) to provide and oversee smartcards. For contact details for all RAs in England, see the NHS Digital website.

Unpaid fees

Occasionally locums have trouble securing payment for services provided. Where there are unpaid fees, locums cannot take the matter to an Employment Tribunal, they have to go to court and make a claim for a money judgement via the small claims track. For further information, see our Recovering unpaid fees page.

Tax returns

If you are self-employed, you will need to fill in a self assessment tax return every year. You will be responsible for keeping accurate records so that you can fill in your tax return correctly. You can use an accountant to do this on your behalf if you wish.

The HMRC website has further guidance about filling in a self assessment return and keeping the right records.  You could also contact their Self-Employed Helpline for further basic information about self-assessment, NI payments and record keeping. The number is 0300 200 3504, or see the government website.

If you think that you will be unable to pay your tax bill on time, you should contact the HMRC right away. The HMRC’s Business Payment Support Service Helpline number is 0300 200 3835.

If you have financial problems, see also the Financial problems section below.


TaxAid is a charity that helps people on low incomes with their tax affairs. You can contact their national helpline on 0345 120 3779 or for further information visit their website.

Financial problems

Pharmacist Support can refer you for free and confidential debt advice provided by a specialist Citizens Advice adviser. They can help you with, for example, preparing a financial statement or rescheduling payments to creditors. For full contact details for Pharmacist Support, see the Self-employed or employee section.

If you have been affected by issues such as unforeseen loss of work or ill-health and are experiencing financial hardship, you could contact Pharmacist Support for information about possible financial assistance. 

Pharmacist Support also have a Help with Debt page.

Professional indemnity insurance

It is a GPhC requirement to “make sure that all your work, or work that you are responsible for, is covered by appropriate professional indemnity cover”.   This insurance cover is designed to protect against claims made by a patient if mistakes are made or a locum is found to be negligent in some or all of the services they provide.

There are two main types of PI policies, claims-made and occurrences. With an occurrence policy any claim made after the policy has been terminated will still be covered as long as the person was insured at the time of the event.

With a claims-made policy, if you have allowed your policy to lapse by the time the claim is made, even if you were insured at the time of the event, you will not be covered. This is an important point to consider if you are going to take a career break and will be letting your insurance lapse.

Even if your employer’s insurance covers you, it is worth bearing in mind that in the event of a conflict of interest between you and your employer, the insurance may actually provide cover for the employer rather than yourself.

If you are a member of a trade union/association check your membership benefits as in some instances full membership may provide you with standard insurance cover and related legal costs.

Finding work

Locums may be contracted directly by an employer or may choose to join an agency. Some employers will only book locums via an agency.

Joining an agency can alleviate the stress of finding locum work. Locums can specify the hours they would like to work, the area and also the minimum rate of pay they will need.

There are numerous agencies for locum pharmacists and it might be a good idea to have a look at a few before choosing. A personal recommendation is also helpful.

Points to consider when joining an agency include:-

  • does the agency charge a placement fee
  • how long is a typical wait between placements
  • does the agency provide any benefits
  • what is the rate of pay.

Our Looking for work page includes a compilation of specialist pharmacist sites, locum agency sites and more general job sites.

Working as a locum and an employee

There are times when pharmacists may look to top up their earnings from their regular job with some extra hours as a locum.

Employees will need to check their employment contract to see whether it contains a clause stipulating that they cannot work elsewhere. For further advice, contact your trade union or your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Pharmacist Support can also refer you to a specialist employment adviser. See the self-employed or employee section for full contact details.

Legal status

The HMRC defines all self-employed workers as sole traders, unless they opt for a different legal structure, for example a limited company. For further information, see the government website or the Start Up Donut website.

Disclosure and Barring Service checks 

The DBS check has replaced the old Criminal Records Bureau check (CRB). It is not currently a General Pharmaceutical Council regulatory requirement for pharmacists to undergo a DBS check before providing pharmaceutical services. However, individual employers should carry out a risk assessment on the various roles within the pharmacy to ascertain who should have a check. Therefore you may be required to have had a DBS check before commencing work. See the government website for the guidance on which roles are eligible for a check.

An employer will ask you to fill in an application form and provide proof of identity. The employer will then submit the completed from for the DBS check. If you are registered with an agency they will ordinarily arrange for a DBS check for you.

In some instances, locum agencies will be happy to arrange a DBS check even if you are not registered with them. Also, some Local Pharmaceutical Committees (LPC) can now organise a DBS check for you. To search for your area LPC go to the LPC Online website.

As a self-employed locum the expense incurred for the DBS check would be classed as tax deductible.

Locums can also use the government search engine to locate an umbrella company in their local area.

For further information about DBS, contact the DBS customer services department on 03000 200 190 or see the government website.

In Scotland, see the Disclosure Scotland website.

Disclosure and barring update service

Once an application for a DBS check has been made, the applicant can register for the DBS online update service. The government have produced an applicant guide for the DBS update service. See the guide on their website.

Further information and help

Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS)

Members can access a full range of services, including support alerts for drug and device recalls, guidance for pharmacy law and ethics and the online Locum Group. This group is for locum pharmacists and is about locum practice in every sector.

For further information about RPS services, ring 0207 572 2737 or visit their website.

Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA)

The PDA is a trade union for pharmacists. Locums can see the PDA Locum Booklet and contract for services on the website. Members can seek advice from PDA lawyers and access information on a variety of topics. They also offer a professional liability insurance scheme.

For further information, ring 0121 694 7000 or visit their website.

National Pharmacy Association (NPA)

The NPA is the trade association for community pharmacy.  Amongst their other services, members can also access NAPTV, a video-content platform enabling locums to keep up with the latest in pharmaceutical news and get answers to current ethical, legal and clinical questions.

For further information, ring 01727 858 687 or visit their website.

Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP)

The GHP is a trade union for pharmacists working in hospitals, primary care and other healthcare institutions in the NHS and the commercial sector. They also offer   a professional liability insurance scheme.

For a small fee, locums joining the scheme can benefit from trade union support and insurance cover whether working in a hospital, service company or community pharmacy.  For further information, visit their website.

Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)

ACAS offers help and advice on issues such as the difficulties in identifying employment status. For further information, see the ACAS website.

Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB)

Citizens Advice Bureaux offer free confidential advice on all manner of issues including employment, legal and financial matters. Search for your local bureau on the CAB website.

This page was last updated and reviewed in November 2023.

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