Some Boots pharmacy staff say they are under too much pressure and fear mistakes will be made. One whistleblower, a former manager, said he resigned in 2015 after he took his concerns to the independent industry regulator.
Several current Boots pharmacists told BBC Inside Out that understaffing could pose a risk to patients. But the chain said its pharmacies were not understaffed and it had an industry-leading patient safety record.
Greg Lawton, who worked for Boots between 2008 and 2015 and in his final role was part of the manpower planning team that assessed staffing levels in the company’s pharmacies, said the things he knew about staffing levels kept him awake at night.
In 2012 he worked on an investigation ordered by Boots into stores with the highest levels of dispensing errors.
“We spoke to pharmacists, to store managers and to area managers and what those people were saying [was that] absolutely staffing levels was flagged as an issue, poor staffing levels,” he said.
Boots said that after the investigation it implemented a detailed action plan. It then commissioned academic research which, it says, found that pharmacies with higher levels of dispensing staff were associated with higher error rates.
In November 2012, a woman called Arlene Devereaux died on her 71st birthday after a Boots pharmacy in Chesterfield dispensed six times the strength of morphine tablets prescribed by her GP.
While understaffing was not found to be a contributing factor in her death, Mr Lawton said: “It was shocking and it kind of reminded you of the importance of the job that you were doing and strengthened your resolve to try and make a difference.”
Mrs Devereaux was one of three people to die between May 2012 and November 2013 following dispensing errors by Boots. Douglas Lamond, 86, died in May 2012 while Margaret Forrest, also aged 86, died in November 2013.
Staff had not followed company safety procedures, and understaffing was not found to have contributed to any of these deaths.
However, the inquest into Mr Lamond’s death was told by a member of the pharmacy team that staff at the Boots branch in Felixstowe, Suffolk, had been under pressure as it was “very busy”.
The inquest in March 2017 heard that staff kept telling their area manager they did not have enough space to do their job. Boots said it found no record of staff raising concerns with the area manager.