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Study reveals ‘human cost’ of ‘relentless’ pharmacy workplace pressures


Study reveals ‘human cost’ of ‘relentless’ pharmacy workplace pressures

Most people working in community pharmacy in the UK who took part in a workforce and wellbeing survey by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Pharmacist Support said they have considered leaving their role or the pharmacy profession in the last year because of the impact of work on their mental health, while the vast majority who responded were at high risk of burnout.

According to a report on the findings, published today and based on an online survey conducted between October and November last year, respondents from community pharmacy were more likely to report their mental health as poor or very poor compared with other sectors.

The two organisations said the study attracted 1,273 responses, including 1,188 “individuals who passed the eligibility screening and could complete the survey.” About 76 per cent, 16 per cent and five per cent of respondents worked and/or studied in England, Scotland and Wales respectively.

Thirty-five per cent of respondents across community, hospital and general practice pharmacy in England, Scotland and Wales said their mental health “had been poor/very poor over the past 12 months.” That proportion was higher in community and hospital pharmacy at 40 per cent and 37 per cent respectively compared with pharmacists in practices at 30 per cent.

Over 60 per cent across all sectors said they considered leaving their current role or the pharmacy profession in the last year because of the impact of work and study on their mental health and 12 per cent said they had left their job, sector or the profession for that reason.

Fewer respondents working in general practice – 67 per cent – said they were likely to consider leaving their role or the sector/profession compared with those in community and hospital pharmacy with 85 per cent and 77 per cent respectively.


Risk of burnout highest in community pharmacy

Ninety-three per cent of respondents in community pharmacy were at high risk of burnout compared with 88 per cent and 86 per cent in hospital pharmacy and general practice respectively. The risk of burnout was also highest in community pharmacy in 2021 and 2022 when 96 per cent said they were at high risk during both years.

A larger number of respondents from Wales – 47 per cent – reported their mental health as poor/very poor compared with their English (35 per cent), Scottish (30 per cent) and “international” including Northern Irish (16 per cent) counterparts.

International respondents had the largest number of respondents who reported good or very good mental health at 52 per cent, compared with Welsh, English and Scottish respondents at 23 per cent, 31 per cent and 36 per cent respectively. However, the report said “caution should be taken when interpreting these findings due to the small international sample.”

Female respondents were less likely to report their mental health and wellbeing as good or very good compared with males. The report said although “a much larger proportion of respondents” reported their mental health as poor/very poor in 2020 compared to 2021-2023, more respondents also said they enjoyed/really enjoyed their work on a daily basis in 2020 (54 per cent) compared with 32 per cent, 28 per cent and 29 per cent in 2021, 2022 and 2023 respectively.


Abuse at work

In the 2023 survey, 52 per cent said they enjoy some aspects of their work or study on a day-to-day basis, while 29 per cent said they enjoy/really enjoy their work and 19 per cent said they don’t/really don’t enjoy their work.

Over the last 12 months, less than half of respondents – 44 per cent – said they had not considered taking time out of work due to the impact work/study was having on their mental health and wellbeing. Nineteen per cent said they had taken time off work while 36 per cent said they wanted to take time off work and study but had not been able to.

Forty-one per cent of respondents said they experienced verbal abuse in the past six months. The majority – 65 per cent – said abuse was from patients/members of the public and 25 per cent of cases involved abuse from a colleague and/or manager.

Of the 489 people who shared their experiences of abuse, 32 said they had suffered physical abuse in the past six months. None of the respondents revealed who abused them.


Unable to take rest breaks

Most respondents – 82 per cent – said they had been offered rest breaks at work or during study but just 42 per cent said they “usually felt able to take those breaks” and 40 per cent reported they “frequently choose not to or were unable to take the breaks they had been offered.” Thirteen per cent of respondents were not offered rest breaks at all.

Fewer people in community pharmacy – 82 per cent – were offered rest breaks compared with those working in hospital and general practice at 90 per cent and 88 per cent respectively.

Eighty-seven per cent of respondents were between 25 and 64 years old, 71 per cent were female, including trans women, and 25 per cent were male, including trans men.

Eighty-five per cent of respondents identified as heterosexual, four per cent as gay men/women and three per cent as bisexual.

Seventy-three per cent of respondents were white, of which 95 per cent were English/Scottish/Welsh/Northern Irish/British, 14 per cent Asian or British Asian, of which 50 per cent were Indian and 20 per cent were Chinese, and four per cent Black/African/ Caribbean/Black British, of which 85 per cent were African and 13 per cent were Caribbean.


Urgent action needed to address mental health challenges

RPS president Claire Anderson said the survey’s results revealed “the human cost of coping with the relentless workplace pressures that pharmacists and trainees experience daily.”

Calling on governments, employers and the NHS to come together “to create more supportive and fulfilling work environments,” she said: “As more pharmacists take on prescribing roles, the need for protected learning time becomes paramount. Without it, ambitions to expand prescribing services will be frustrated.

“A significant increase in learning opportunities for prescribers, and in workplace supervision capacity for designated prescribing practitioners, is essential.

“No one should have to face abuse in the workplace. Such behaviour undermines the well-being of individuals and compromises the quality of care provided to patients.”

Pharmacist Support chief executive Danielle Hunt said the study was “an important piece of work” that allowed them to “highlight the ongoing issues impacting individuals within the pharmacy profession.”

“This year’s results are yet another stark reminder of the urgent need for action to address the mental health challenges faced by pharmacists,” she said. “It is imperative that we use this valuable information to inform concrete steps towards creating more supportive and sustainable work environments within the pharmacy profession.”



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