Layer 1

Boots increases mental health support after pharmacist suicide

Kevan Jones MP "raised concerns" about Boots after a pharmacist's suicide [Credit: Parliamentlive.tv]
Kevan Jones MP "raised concerns" about Boots after a pharmacist's suicide [Credit: Parliamentlive.tv]

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.

17 Comments
Question: 
How does your pharmacy help to raise awareness of employee mental health issues?

Thamina Pinky, Locum pharmacist

While working as a locum in one of the pharmacy branches of boots it appeared to me the dispenser was bullying me... she was forcing me to jump to the till, pick medications, check all in one time.... launched a complain but did not get any feed back.

 

 

 

Amal England, Public Relations

GPhC..... Time to act against these satanic multiples or close your doors and fold and let the real pharmacists take control and regain their professionalism.

Meera Sharma, Community pharmacist

Very tragic case, and agree with all teh comments here. The problem is not with teh pharmacists themselves, more with the unrealistic expectations placed upon them. Not sure how much more GPhC needs to take a stance on this. Counselling/phone numbers etc. are completely pointless if the root of the problem is not tackled. Am all for starting a petition for parliament debate - pharmacists are people, not numbers as being increasingly portaryed!

Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

Unfortunately I do not see organisations treating their pharmacists any better, even after this tragic incident because they fail to see pharmacists as actual people. This is probably why they expect them to do training/learning etc in their own time, failing to recognize the need for a work-life balance. They do not appreciate that being a pharmacist is a job and that they cannot dictate what you do in your own time or expect you to devote all hours to them. 

Mr Jones mentioned the long hours and demands placed on Alison Stamps overwhelmed her, causing depression. This is not atypical for community pharmacy, rather it is the norm. At the moment there is too much pressure placed on one individual- pharmacies need to start employing more than one pharmacist  where the workload is excessive for just one pharmacist and ensuring there is enough support staff. Without measures such as these, counselling sessions are of little use.

Rubicon Mango, Academic pharmacist

Well said, a friend of mine who worked in community not long ago, worked from 8am to 6.30pm in a very busy pharmacy. It is attached to three gp surgeries in a run down part of the north. So effectively works 52.5 hours a week, with commute which is 50-60 mins each way works at a max of 10 hours a week. If there was ever traffic, he would be told that the bogeyman NHS BSA who seem to have nothing better to do will remind him that he is in breach of his contractual arrangements and fine the company. Also, he was told he can have a lunch you know the 'working lunch' where you actually dont have a lunch but for regulations they say you do. The pharmacy does around 3000 items a week and he had himself, one act and two staff. The local CCG was also located in the building so his head office said he had to show commitment and actively engage in meetings with them afterwork. He was also told by head office he had to go to these evening sessions local lpc's put on. You know the ones full of pharmacists who seem to place professionalism and work before anything important like family. The final straw in the coffin was when the company said to him he will have to undertake flu vaccine training on a sunday for 5 hours. He asked if there was an alternative, they said no and he wont get paid for his time. He handed in his notice because he was disgusted at the lack of respect for his free time, this chap has a family and other commitments on the weekend.

He applied for a role in training as a QA, earns literally half of what he had earned prior but works 35 hours a week, commute is literally 15 minutes away, has an hour lunch, training is provided by the company in his work time. When I last saw him, he was much more happier, healthier and positive. Had to make some adjustments to his living standard of course but he is the happiest I have seen him in years.

I've seen Pharmacists proudly refuse lunch breaks and work through like its a sign of some steller endurance. Far from it, your just making the profession worse in the long run.

My son was born premature and spent 2 months in intensive care, the nurses worked a pattern of 4 days on/3 days off however each day was a whole 12 hours shift. Am sorry but I expect that type of working environment in a military hospital. Patients need to be reminded that the service they get is free, it is a state system.

Nationaslise the pharmacies, surgeries and all NHS services and lets give all our NHS staff better working conditions.

 

 

 

Locum Pharmacist, Locum pharmacist

Your friend was smart to get out rather than burnout and sounds like he has a much better quality of life now. Are companies actually allowed to demand their employees attend training/learning events outside of work hours? Unpaid? I have often wondered because a lot of pharmacists do end up attending these events just so that their managers don't breathe down their necks or make life difficult for them.

The point you made about some pharmacists attending these events placing professionalism and work before anything else was spot on. Unfortunately they just end up making life worse for everyone else who are then expected to do the same. Pharmacists who do this and work through lunch (etc) are put on a pedestal by pharmacy staff and managers because of how 'dedicated' they are when in reality they are simply working for free in their own time. Professionals get paid. They also eat.

Nationalising pharmacies is a good idea although I would prefer it if we adopted a system where only pharmacists were allowed to own and run pharmacies and there were rules in place to prevent anyone gaining a monopoly. I know it's unrealistic at this point what with all the multiples out there but it would be the best thing for pharmacists and our mental health.

Ilove Pharmacy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

Nothing will change until individuals stand up for themselves and value their own quality of life or there is a spate of more deaths.

Sadly which do you think is more likely to happen ?

Rubicon Mango, Academic pharmacist

Never, I've had the pleasure of working with a vareity of healthcare professionals and in my honest opinion as a Pharmacist myself, Pharmacists are the worst. If this government announced it would make Pharmacists work for free, I honestly believe you will see some people do it. More people are interested in the supposed respect, authority and power then what the reward of their job is.

Beta Blocker, Primary care pharmacist

Could not agree more... I'm sure there will be community pharmacists up and down the country who have been through what you describe above. I for one can say I'm much happier being on slightly less money than I was earning in community but I now have a better work life balance and more time to spend doing things I want to do.

janet revers, Community pharmacist

I am a listening samaritan volunteer. Please do not hesitate to ring 116  123 if you ever feel down or contact the listening friend scheme. This scheme is run by pharmacists so are more likely to understand the unique pressure of the job, There will be ongoing support

Ilove Pharmacy, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

No Job is worth your life and certainly not a Boots Pharmacist job.

S J- Locum, Locum pharmacist

So so Tragic. So many Pharmacists ARE BEING DRIVEN TO THIS. Nobody cares. The employers show false sympathy. There are no regulations to protect pharmacists from this.

Why has something so tragic to occur before anyone will do anything, The GPhc is totally lacking empathy towards pharmacists as well 

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

I doubt very much if anything will change because of this. There will be the usual handwringing from the multiples but then once the fuss has died down a bit it will be business as usual until the next overpressured pharmacist snaps.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Reining in the area managers would go a long long way towards improving pharmacist mental health. So long as the bullying MUR/NMS pressures are there this will not go away. 

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

Agreed a very tragic event and was in local press in Lancashire, and agree with everything you say Stephen. All pharmacy employers should endeavour to offer counselling and support as an employee benefit from an indepndent resource not HR as that is self defeating in terms of trust. Isolation is a problem in community, sometimes in hospital with its hierarchy of Bands with a us and them mentality, and in GP practice when there are no other pharmacy colleagues, luckily I have become friends with a very nice ACT who works in the HC pharmacy and we always chat every lunchtime. So we need to foster a buddy system for pharmacists formally or informally, in the army we were taught mini mental health tests, maybe we need that training for all pharmacy staff. Take care all xxx

Chemical Mistry, Information Technology

 

Dear Gerry, this is a different young lady, the lady you are thinking of was Victoria Smith from leyland who was also a pharmacist and committed sucide on holiday another sad story but becoming more common and again very sad.Also it was important remenber the comments by the MP concerning the Gphc outlook on the case very telling and complete silence from rudkin and co.Like you i am far down career in pharmacy and never known pressure it is now but i will walk away when the time comes which i feel is very soon.Take care out there because your employer's will not.Confide in friends and fellow work colleagues because they will be going throught the same and remember it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help if need be go off sick, do not be a martyr for your employer because you mean nothing to these people harsh i know but the truth hurts.

 

 

 

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

This is a tragic case and should make us all aware of the need to be vigilant when it comes to mental health - both our own and that of our colleagues - and to always feel we can, should and must raise any concerns. It does not matter if you are an employee or the owner - any time you feel the need, you should speak to someone - anyone - if it means you could be helped. As someone who has lost close friends to mental illness (not pharmacists), I cannot make this point strongly enough. Pharmacy is generally quite an isolated existance but that should not stop us from contacting a colleague if needed 

Job of the week

Pre-registration Pharmacists
West London, Surrey, Hampshire, Ken
On application