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Impact of COVID-19 on pharmacists' mental health and wellbeing

RPS, in partnership with charity Pharmacist Support, have today published their second annual survey on mental health and wellbeing, which demonstrates the impact of COVID-19 on pharmacists.

Over half (54%) of pharmacists believed that COVID-19 had impacted their mental health and wellbeing to a partial extent while nearly a third (31%) said it had to a significant extent.

When asked more generally about their work, 72% of respondents said it had negatively affected their mental health and wellbeing, with reasons given including increased demand, inadequate staffing, long hours and a lack of breaks and time off. This figure is comparable with the 2019 survey (74%), showing that whilst COVID-19 may have exacerbated these issues, they pre-existed the pandemic.

The survey revealed that 40% of respondents felt their mental health was OK, but 33% of respondents said it was not good and a further 10% said it was poor.

A huge majority (89%) scored as being at high risk of burnout – an increase from 80% in the 2019 survey. One-third (33%) of respondents had considered leaving their job, while a further third (34%) had considered leaving the profession.

Whilst over half (57%) of employers provide mental health and wellbeing support, 44% of pharmacists reported feeling uncomfortable accessing it. Reasons given for this centred on confidentiality and trust, particularly stigma, judgement and the potential for it to harm their career. Of this group, those working in community (51%) were most reluctant to access support, compared to colleagues in general practice (46%) and hospital (31%). 

RPS President Sandra Gidley said: “We’ve all felt the consequences of extra pressures brought by the pandemic. It’s been incredibly tough and caused enormous stress and increased workloads for pharmacy teams. We need to ensure support is available for those who need it, whilst preventing problems from happening by tackling some of the root causes of poor mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

“Flexible opening hours have been enormously helpful in managing workloads and should become a permanent adaptation, rather than a short-term measure. Having the right staffing levels and skill mix in the pharmacy to support safe and effective patient care should be a given. And being able to take breaks, to relieve the pressure or for CPD to learn something new, is essential.

“Our campaigning led to access to NHS wellbeing services being granted to pharmacists and their teams for the first time. We want to see this continue beyond the pandemic and extended to include access to NHS occupational health services too. It would be deeply unjust if support for the country’s third largest health profession, who have worked so hard this year, was simply switched off once the immediate crisis is over.

“I’m alarmed that a third of respondents to our survey have considered leaving the profession. The most valuable asset the NHS has is its workforce. Retaining highly skilled healthcare professionals such as pharmacists is essential to patient care. We must also work together to ensure the profession becomes more inclusive and is able to attract people from all backgrounds. We’ll be taking these results to Governments, NHS bodies and pharmacy organisations across Great Britain to create the change that’s needed.”

Chief Executive of Pharmacist Support Danielle Hunt commented: Pharmacist Support is acutely aware of the negative impact the pandemic has had on our pharmacy family's wellbeing. These survey results provide us with crucial insight which will help us to develop our support over the coming year. 

“A clear concern for us from these results is that there are a number of barriers to accessing mental health and wellbeing support for pharmacists and pharmacy students. Although the reasons behind this may not always be clear, a large percentage point to a lack of awareness and concerns around confidentiality and stigma. Worryingly there is also a gap in awareness amongst BAME respondents of employer or NHS-funded occupational services.

“As the profession’s independent charity, delivering confidential support and providing a safe space for those in the profession to share worries, we feel there is more we need to do over the next year to ensure people get access to the support they require. Although we are delighted to see an increase in general awareness of Pharmacist Support, with only 13% of respondents saying they knew lots about the services we offer, we recognise that there is a still great deal of work to do here to build a better understanding of the support we provide.

“With such a high percentage of people within the profession at risk of burnout, it is essential for the charity to continue to work in partnership with organisations across the sector to raise awareness of our support, as well as raise awareness of the importance of wellbeing. After a successful campaign this year, I am delighted that the charity will again be running a wellbeing awareness campaign in 2021. We will continue to expand our wellbeing offering with the development of new events, training programmes, and resources, kicking off with joint events with the RPS in the run up to Christmas.”

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