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Boots increases mental health support after pharmacist suicide

Boots has increased its company-wide mental health support following the “tragic loss” of one of its pharmacists in 2015, C+D has learned.

Alison Stamps – a Boots pharmacist working in County Durham – tragically took her own life in May 2015 by overdosing on tricyclic antidepressant amitriptyline.

Following an inquest into her death, representatives from Boots met with Ms Stamps’ family in 2016 to offer their condolences and discuss the details of the case, Boots told C+D last week (October 26).

The multiple has “had a number of company-wide measures” around mental health in place for “some years” and has continued to add to them “since the tragic loss of Alison”, said Elizabeth Fagan, Boots UK and Republic of Ireland managing director said.

These include greater mental health awareness training and face-to-face counselling, she explained.

“We take [mental health issues] extremely seriously and continue to work very hard to have the right support processes in place to help both colleagues and their managers,” Ms Fagan said.

MP "raises concerns" in parliament

Ms Fagan was responding to a House of Commons debate last week (October 25) in which Ms Stamps’ local MP Kevan Jones accused the multiple of not doing enough to help Ms Stamps “in her time of crisis”.

Mr Jones said he had called the parliamentary debate to “raise wider concerns that I and [Ms Stamps’] family have around the operation of Boots UK, and how it dealt with her death, as well as my broader concerns concerning pharmacists and mental health issues”.

He claimed that the “long hours and demands” placed on Ms Stamps contributed to her feeling “overwhelmed” and suffering from depression in the lead up to her suicide.

Despite “commending the actions of the store manager, who genuinely tried to help Alison”, Mr Jones claimed that “no attempt seems to have been made centrally or high up [in Boots] to intervene directly”.

Mr Jones also referenced an article published in the Guardian last year, which alleged that Boots managers were telling pharmacists to deliver unnecessary medicines use reviews to meet financial “targets”. Boots told C+D at the time that it “did not recognise" the claims.

“Pressures” to meet targets “are putting an increasing strain on pharmacists”, Mr Jones claimed during the debate, and the “fear” of speaking up about mental health issues is a “particular issue” in the pharmacy sector.

“Mental health in the workplace is one of the big issues that we do not talk about,” Mr Jones added. “But what struck me about this case was that it involved…a huge multinational company, which should have had the capacity within its organisation to provide assistance.”

Boots “deeply affected”

Boots said it was “deeply affected by the loss of” Ms Stamps, and told C+D it had also met with Mr Jones in 2016 to discuss the case. It remains open to engaging with Mr Jones on the topic, it said.

Ms Stamps received support from her manager and also two counselling sessions through the organisation, the multiple added.

Charity Pharmacist Support confirmed to C+D that it has been working with Boots for “a number of years”, including delivering wellbeing training videos to all 6,500 Boots pharmacists in 2016 (see below for ways to contact Pharmacist Support).

“Lots of tools” available

Mr Jones acknowledged during the debate that “there are lots of tools out there” for companies to better support employees with mental health issues, but they “must be taken seriously” and not treated “like a tick-box exercise”.

“Giving someone with depression a helpline to ring is not the answer,” he stressed.

The MP for North Durham recommended that a confidential NHS system that allows GPs and trainees to self-refer to services dealing with “mental health, including stress and depression” be “replicated for pharmacists”.

“It is quite clear that lessons need to be learned and that changes need to be made…in the way we employ [pharmacists] and treat them in the workplace,” Mr Jones added.

Responding to Mr Jones’s speech, Jackie Doyle-Price MP, Department of Health minister responsible for care and mental health, said: “Pharmacists carry out important and precise work in dispensing medication…and are exposed to the very tools that can be used to take their own lives if they are minded to do so.”

“The death of Alison Stamps has been particularly tragic. Her case is a clear lesson that employers need to be alive to the mental health needs of their staff,” she added.

For more information and for support and advice around mental health and wellbeing, visit the Pharmacist Support website here. For specific stress and wellbeing support, visit the charity’s ‘Listening Friends’ scheme here.

How does your pharmacy help to raise awareness of employee mental health issues?

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