More tasks, hardly any staff: This is how the situation of pharmacist Sigrid Klein, owner of the Löwen pharmacy in Gersheim, can be summarized. She lost two employed pharmacists within half a year. "55-hour weeks are now the norm, sometimes even longer," says Klein. She has been looking for new employees for a year – without success. That has consequences. She used to train herself – that's no longer possible today. You just don't have the capacity. It also no longer offers additional services such as flu vaccinations.
Pharmacies are looking for employees nationwide
Löwen-Apotheke is not alone in this. There are numerous job offers on the website of the Saarland Chamber of Pharmacists. 50 pharmacies have had to close nationwide in the past ten years.
This trend can not only be observed in Saarland, but also nationwide. According to the Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists (ABDA), the density of pharmacies in this country is only 22 pharmacies per 100,000 inhabitants – and thus below the average value for the European Union at 32. The number of pharmacies has fallen to a new low of 18,461. Jürgen Wasem, Professor of Medical Management at the University of Duisburg-Essen, does not see a general dying out of pharmacies. The supply of medicines is also ensured.
Lack of young talent as a challenge
The reasons for the declining number of pharmacies and the shortage of staff are, on the one hand, the lack of young people. Training places for pharmaceutical technical assistants (PTA) are limited and few and far between. There is only one school in Saarland, even in North Rhine-Westphalia there are only six. Wasem sees a need for improvement, particularly with regard to the framework conditions for PTA: "PTA must be better paid. Training, which has not yet been paid for, should also be remunerated. That would be a task for the legislature."
The ABDA says that places are also scarce. There are two applicants for one place. This is one of the reasons why President Gabriele Regina Overwiening is calling for more study places and locations in Germany. In addition, many doors are open to graduates: in addition to public pharmacies, there are also positions in hospitals or in industry.
Pharmacies complain about overregulation
Pharmacies also complain about increasing bureaucracy. Apothecary Klein now has a whole room full of thick folders. "Yes, regulation has increased," confirms expert Wasem. "It's too much when health insurance companies reimburse prescriptions. For example, if you misspell the first name of the doctor prescribing a prescription, that's reason enough for health insurance companies to reimburse you." This means that health insurance companies then refuse to reimburse the pharmacy for a drug.
Competition from online pharmacies
Lack of young talent, increasing bureaucracy – and the competition from online pharmacies. Klein has to deal with problems that online pharmacies don't have – for example with blood pressure monitors. "After two years, the customer returns it to me because we have to check whether the device is still measuring correctly." Or nursing aids. The pharmacist puts them together individually. The internet mail order business, on the other hand, has its fixed package. It's more expensive and time-consuming for Klein, and it makes less profit.
Wasem, on the other hand, sees exactly this as the advantage of on-site pharmacies: they can adapt to the individual needs of customers.
With the "On-Site Pharmacy Strengthening Act" passed in 2020, former Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn wanted to relieve pharmacies. After that, they get more money for services. "In the end, however, politics can only intervene to a limited extent here. If the pharmacy wants to assert itself in the future, it must become more distinctive in terms of its range of products and advice," explains Wasem.
The law did not have a major impact on the daily work of pharmacist Klein either. She would like to have more employees and less bureaucracy. Löwen-Apotheke in Gersheim is important to its customers in the countryside, and that means a lot to Klein. Despite the difficult circumstances, she never thought of quitting.