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Pharmacist Support sees 22% surge in enquiries, as stress levels rise

Pharmacist Support: Employment issues topped the list of calls to our 'Listening Friends' helpline
Pharmacist Support: Employment issues topped the list of calls to our 'Listening Friends' helpline

Enquiries to Pharmacist Support rose by 22% from 2016-18 – a period that also saw stress levels among the sector increase.

Enquiries to the charity rose from 1,099 in 2016 to 1,412 in 2018, Pharmacist Support told C+D, mirroring a six percentage point rise in stress levels among pharmacists identified by C+D.

The number of pharmacists affected by stress rose from 68% in 2016 to 74% in 2018 (see image below), according to findings from the C+D Salary Survey presented to England’s chief pharmaceutical officer in January.

C+D stress graph

Employment issues top enquiries

Pharmacist Support said “employment issues” accounted for more than a quarter of all enquiries, with 62% of these relating to either “terms and conditions in the workplace, disciplinaries, workplace stress [or] bullying at work”.

“In terms of workplace stress, some specific factors that enquirers mention to us are staffing levels, making errors and the worry of making more,” as well as “the obvious worry and stress caused by going through disciplinary proceedings”, the charity said.

This link between staff pressures and errors was also raised by the National Pharmacy Association, which reported last month that 21% of the patient safety incidents for October-December 2018 citing “work and environment factors” were in fact due to staff shortages.

FTP and revalidation concerns

Pharmacist Support also noted a 51% increase in enquiries regarding “regulation and practice” in 2018 alone, which was made up “almost entirely of enquiries relating to fitness-to-practise investigations and revalidation issues”.

Enquiries relating to finance rose 14% last year, it added.

Depression, drinking and suicidal thoughts

C+D’s 2018 Salary Survey found that stress-related problems affecting pharmacists included: trouble sleeping, cited by 43% of respondents; depression (27%); drinking more than usual (11%); and suicidal thoughts (6%).

Pharmacist Support said it saw a “large spike” in views of its online sleep factsheet in 2016 and 2017, leading to it becoming one of the top three most popular sheets on its website – although it had dropped down eighth place by 2018.

Its stress factsheet is “always popular” and “the first to disappear at events”, it added.

Referring to C+D’s findings that 11% of pharmacists are drinking more than usual as a result of stress, Pharmacist Support said: “Alcohol is consistently the most common addiction issue for people who contact our addiction support service.”

It is either “reported as single addiction or sometimes combined with another dependency, such and drugs”, it explained.

“Pharmacists who contact our addiction support service will often be facing disciplinary problems at work and fitness-to-practise concerns, along with the impact on other aspects of their life; for example, strain on family relationships and problems managing financially.”

What is C+D doing about pharmacy stress?

C+D created a briefing document, which was passed to England’s chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge by the RPS to persuade him of the damage stress is causing to community pharmacy. Download it, and read C+D’s in-depth coverage of the data.

Let C+D know about your own experiences of stress by emailing [email protected]. Please state if you prefer your comments to remain anonymous.

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

How is workplace stress affecting you and your patients?

John Smith, Locum pharmacist

It's a horrible job. When trying to describe it to friends, the only analogy that seems adequate is to imagine being a manager in a busy McDonalds and having virtually next to near no staff, working with the constant spectre of prosecution and career loss if you hand out the wrong meal, all for an average industrial wage similar to a McDonalds manager funny enough. Throw in a regulator just itching to kick your sorry ass of the register for good measure, and you must pay an annual fee to them for the privilege. Absolutely terrible life decision. Thank God I'm youngish enough to rectify it.


Leon The Apothecary, Student

It's a very valid point - there's a load of other jobs out there which do the same thing, quintessentially distribution, McDonalds works well as an analogy because it's fundamentally the same process.
Receiving an order (prescription) and prepare it to the letter (dispensing) before giving it out to a customer (patient). With a few extra steps for QA (checking).  

I sometimes wonder if dispensaries are made out to be far more complicated then they actually need to be. The average wage seems to think so for a common dispenser. Less then a checkout assistant typically, isn't that terrible? 

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Must be fake news or this alleged stress is limited to independents becasue the multiples say everything is fine and dandy. 

Heather Pharm Tech, Allocation & Distribution

I think they pump powdered sertraline into the aircon in that case...

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