Community pharmacists’ experiences of workplace pressure: the impact of COVID-19

Workplace pressure can be useful to keep individuals alert at work; however, excess pressure leads to stress and is detrimental to health​[1,2]​. Prolonged pressure can lead to burnout and increased errors.

Community pharmacy has historically been a stressful working environment owing to the high levels of sole responsibility and accountability for dispensing (and dispensing errors) taken on by the pharmacist. This has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with related staff shortages, the transition from face-to-face to virtual care in GP surgeries and the resulting increased demand by patients. Strategies to reduce workplace pressure may be primary (reducing organisational causes, such as providing more staff or more breaks), secondary (providing individuals with tools to deal with stress when it arises, such as stress management classes and muscle relaxation techniques) or tertiary (treating those already affected by stress by referring to employee assistance programmes, which provide counselling) and can be focused on individual employees or a whole organisation.

Individual community pharmacists can also use personal strategies to cope with workplace pressure, stress and burnout, such as contacting friends or family, exercising and working out. However, little is known about how community pharmacists experienced workplace pressure, stress and burnout during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, or how they dealt with these pressures.

In August 2020, we undertook a small survey of community pharmacists in the UK to explore the impact of COVID-19 on community pharmacists’ experiences of workplace pressure, stress and burnout.

A ten-item survey was piloted and distributed to community pharmacists via social media channels (such as Twitter and Facebook) and via professional networks between 10 August 2020 and 15 September 2020. The questionnaire was developed using and consisted of single best answer multiple choice questions and Likert scales. Data was analysed using descriptive statistics (mean, median, mode and standard deviation).

In total, 49 responses from the UK were received. Around 48% of respondents (n=24) experienced feelings of workplace pressure, stress and burnout sometimes, most of the time or always before the pandemic, which rose substantially during the pandemic to 76% (n=37). In addition, the number of pharmacists working more than 45 hours per week almost doubled during the pandemic (19% before [n=9], 40% after [n=19]). The predominant strategies respondents used to deal with workplace pressure during the pandemic were utilising support networks, taking regular breaks or time off work, and taking part in hobbies. A minority of respondents (n=4) also reported using antidepressant and anxiolytic medications to manage their experiences of workplace pressure, stress and burnout.

The findings demonstrate that the pharmacists’ experiences of workplace pressure, stress and burnout are multifactorial and increased substantially during the 2020 pandemic. Our findings indicate a dual effect, where community pharmacists experienced an increase in workload, workplace pressure, stress and burnout, but also had limited access to strategies to manage these experiences owing to social distancing​[3]​. Social distancing also prevented them from meeting up with friends and family or attending gym classes to relieve some of the pressure they experienced at work.

Our work supports the findings of similar surveys: community pharmacy is facing a time of unprecedented demand, which is decreasing the quality of the working environment for community pharmacists​[4,5]​.

Although generic mental health support is available for NHS workers in England, Scotland and Wales, without access to specific and tailored support to deal with the occupational workplace pressures uniquely faced by community pharmacists, community pharmacy may be facing a workforce crisis​[6–8]​.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Pharmacy report recently called on the government to offer more financial support for community pharmacists, and our work suggests that this could not come quickly enough​[9]​. Community pharmacy is on a knife-edge and requires urgent support from government, devolved parliaments and assemblies to continue to act as a cornerstone of our society.

Maisie Baker, fourth year pharmacy student, Newcastle University

Laura Lindsey, lecturer in pharmacy practice, School of Pharmacy, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University

Adam Pattison Rathbone, lecturer in clinical and social pharmacy, School of Pharmacy, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University

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Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, April 2021, Vol 306, No 7948;306(7948)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.74278

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