Pharmacists need rest breaks, writes President

By RPS President Professor Claire Anderson

It’s a challenging time in pharmacy. As the professional leadership body, we want to support the pharmacy workforce with a major issue you’ve told us about: a lack of rest breaks during the working day.

Ensuring the workforce has appropriate rest breaks supports positive mental health and wellbeing for pharmacists. Crucially, it is also essential for delivering high quality services and patient safety. Good staff morale is also associated with achieving quality care for patients.

We believe that all pharmacists must be offered - and take - their rest breaks.

What we’ve heard

Our Workforce Wellbeing Survey in 2021 revealed 89% of you scored as being at high risk of burnout. When asked about rest breaks, 17% of you were not offered a rest break during the working day, and the 40% who were offered a rest break frequently could not take it. This is unacceptable.

No-one should have to work without a break, or feel they can’t ask for, or take, a break.

In summer 2020 we asked what you had learnt from practising during the pandemic to date. One of the things you told us was how much you valued being able to shut your pharmacy for a short period for various activities during the working day, including to take a well-deserved and uninterrupted rest break.

Since then, we have strongly lobbied for pharmacists to have breaks to support their mental health and wellbeing. It is critical for all pharmacy workplaces to be supported to foster a culture conducive to positive mental health and wellbeing.

It’s important to note that British law determines minimum requirements for rest breaks and sets time limits on the working hours of employees. However, as part of professional regulation and contract requirements in terms of service delivery there are many other issues that can affect whether a pharmacist and pharmacy team have a rest break.

Patient Safety and Professional Responsibility

Pharmacists and employers of healthcare teams have a responsibility to ensure patient safety. As individual professionals, pharmacists must think about the impact of their working hours and their ability to practice safely. Rest breaks are not a luxury, they are there to support your mental health and wellbeing, as well as support patient safety.

Evidence shows that working long hours without taking a physical and mental break can lead to an increase in dispensing errors and other patient safety issues. You should not feel guilty about taking a break.

There are certainly pressures on all pharmacy teams: dealing with the additional pressures of COVID such as backlogs and vaccinations, on top of delivering business as usual; but frequently missing rest breaks must not become the norm.

Making it happen

It’s true that taking a rest break is not always easy. There are a lot of issues to be thought through, such as regulatory requirements, NHS terms of service, and employer and professional responsibilities.

We also need to think about patients and the public. People are used to coming into a community pharmacy and having immediate access to a pharmacist, which is something, as a profession, we have encouraged over the years. If pharmacies choose to close to enable staff to have a rest break then this will require behavioural change among patients and the public.

RPS strongly advocates rest breaks for all pharmacy team members, and we will work with others who can initiate change and make it happen.

Over the next few months we will:

  • Have individual meetings with pharmacist employers, both NHS employed and contractor employers, to understand the barriers to pharmacists taking rest breaks within the working day
  • Meet with the GPhC to understand what guidance it can issue and implement in terms of ensuring all pharmacists are offered, and can take, rest breaks during their working day
  • Engage with governments around any specific actions that are needed to make sure rest breaks become normal practice
  • Engage with members, particularly through our Workforce Wellbeing Action Group, to understand what is happening in practice and explore examples of good practice
  • Engage with employers in all care settings to achieve change
  • Keep you informed of what is happening

Pharmacists, in all areas of practice, must be able to take an uninterrupted rest break during their working day.

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