Championing the wellbeing of the profession

Pharmacist Support Trustees and Staff Chief Executive, Danielle Hunt

By Danielle Hunt, Pharmacist Support

For those unfamiliar with Pharmacist Support – we’re the profession’s independent charity supporting pharmacists and their families, former pharmacists and pharmacy students in times of need.

In the past 10 years we’ve seen the number of acts of support the charity has been called upon to provide increase from over 700 in 2008 to over 7,000 in 2018. As we’ve grown and developed as a charity – so have the pressures. Although this is something we’ve been monitoring over the years through enquiries and service use, in May of this year we felt that the time was right to reach out to the profession once again, and to ask more generally about the issues and the challenges causing you the most stress today.

Through an online survey and series of in-depth interviews you told us that you needed support with stress at work, with work-life balance and with managing your wellbeing. In October we joined forces with the RPS as part of their workforce wellbeing campaign to dig a little deeper into these issues. You highlighted that this stress was linked to unrealistic expectations, leading to concerns around making mistakes and burnout.

Back in 2013 the charity recognised a need for more proactive support and following receipt of a large legacy from Pharmacist Robert Wardley, set about researching, piloting and launching a new wellbeing service. This service – delivered in a workshop format – consisted of information to help individuals understand the importance of wellbeing, recognise the signs and symptoms of stress in themselves and others and to provide tools and techniques to help manage those pressures. To date this service – now made up of workshops covering resilience, time management and assertiveness, webinars and fact sheets – has supported thousands of individuals (students and pharmacists) across the profession – almost 5,000 acts of wellbeing support in total.

Another part of this wellbeing support is our Listening Friends stress helpline. Staffed by trained volunteers who are pharmacists, this service provides a listening ear to individuals struggling with a range of personal and professional issues. In the last 10 years these dedicated volunteers have made over 2,700 calls to colleagues in stress & been able to help them navigate their way through many challenging situations.

Monitoring and understanding these pressures helps us ensure the charity’s services remain relevant and useful and the information we’ve gathered and you’ve provided through these surveys has informed the development our new 5 year strategy. Moving forward Pharmacist Support will be looking to further develop and shape our proactive wellbeing support and will aim to champion the wellbeing of those in the pharmacy profession alongside partners like the RPS.

So, thank you for your input over this past year. We look forward to sharing our new strategy with you and hope that you’ll join us on this new phase of our journey!

Your Mental Health Matters

By Ravi Sharma, Director of England, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Like with any profession, the mental health and wellbeing of a workforce is paramount to being successful. As pharmacists, we have a duty to provide the best possible care for patients and I realise this means our job becomes very intense and stressful at times. We know that pharmacists continue to work tirelessly on the frontline every single day to help improve patient care, safety and reducing pressures on the NHS.

New research

Our recent research with Pharmacist Support to investigate workplace pressures has been very revealing and shocking. With over 1300 responses to our survey in just two weeks, we know that this is a topic people really care about, with nearly 75% of pharmacist saying their workplace environment has negatively impacted their mental health and wellbeing. As a staggering 80% of respondents also highlighted that they are at high or very high risk of burnout because of exhaustion and a further 44% concerned about potentially making mistakes or providing poor quality to patients, the magnitude of the problem is much more significant. We have released our initial survey findings which indicates the problem and our full report will be published in the spring next year.

What next

This is a real problem which needs to be addressed by the government immediately. The RPS is calling for access to NHS commissioned mental health and wellbeing services to cover all pharmacists working in any area of practice, just like what all doctors and dentists are entitled to. What we need to understand is the root causes to these problems and why the health and wellbeing of pharmacists is compromised. This will enable preventive measures to be put into place. We will be engaging with key stakeholders and our members in the new year to help understand the causes and the best solutions.

Having recently written to the Secretary of State for Health calling for pharmacist’s wellbeing to be supported more proactively, we hope this is a key issue for the government to address. We will continue to lobby and fight for pharmacists and ensure that the newly formed government tackles this as a priority.

Our aim is to ensure we can look after our pharmacists. We need to work with and listen to our members and form key relationships with stakeholders to produce a brighter future for the workforce. Together, we can make a real difference for our profession.

Working for you on workforce wellbeing

by Sandra Gidley, RPS President

The extent of workforce pressures on the mental health and wellbeing of pharmacists, pre-regs and students is shocking. 

When we asked you to tell us about your experiences in our workplace wellbeing survey in September, over a 1300 of you responded in a fortnight.  Thank you to everyone who shared their stories with us and our survey partner, the charity Pharmacist Support.

Pharmacists all over the country told us they are suffering from severe stress and burnout because of the pressures they are facing at work.

This is totally unacceptable.

The data you have provided us with is powerful. Our next step is to lobby governments, NHS and employers across Great Britain to make sure all pharmacists get equal access to wellbeing support.  At present, only those pharmacists employed directly by the NHS get access to help, alongside doctors and dentists, who get it regardless of where they work.  We are fighting for all of you to get the same support.

Key themes

Workplace pressure contributes significantly to poor mental health and wellbeing.  Some of the themes we’ve picked up include how poor mental health is not specific to one sector of practice, it can affect all pharmacists wherever they work.  A large proportion of respondents told us they are at a high risk of burnout.  Many of you have also said that you’re very concerned about the effects your stress has on patient safety. In addition, survey respondents feel that workplace pressures can cause people to disengage from their role, creating personal unhappiness and a less productive workforce.

Campaigning for you

Our lobbying work around this is now focusing on getting preventative measures in place and structured mental health and wellbeing services for all pharmacists. I’d go as far as saying that the NHS is at risk of creating workforce inequalities by providing support services for some staff and not others. We need to learn the lessons from the workforce pressures our GP and nurse colleagues have experienced, rather than make the same mistakes.

Next steps

In December we’ll be publishing a summary of the topline survey results and will provide a more detailed report in Spring 2020.  We’ll then hold a roundtable with key stakeholders to identify solutions to the problems raised in the survey.  We’ll continue to engage with you, the NHS and government to get equal access to the right support for the profession.

Confidential help

Remember, if you’re struggling to manage your wellbeing, you’re not alone.  Pharmacist Support – the profession’s charity – has free and confidential services that may help.  For information, a stress helpline, specialist advice, wellbeing workshops and online resources visit Pharmacist Support info@pharmacistsupport.org  or call 0808 168 2233.