Like GPs and NHS employees, community pharmacists should have access to mental health support

Many pharmacists complain of stress, and prolonged stress leads to serious health and wellbeing problems. Pharmacists have been known to drink or smoke more, snap at colleagues and customers, and withdraw themselves. They may have difficulty concentrating and making decisions, and be prone to worry.

The NHS recognises that the health of staff has an impact on patient care. NHS Employers says that it is “working with NHS England and NHS Improvement to offer increased support for NHS staff to improve their health and wellbeing”. And the NHS Health and Wellbeing Framework, launched in May 2018, advises organisations on how they can plan and deliver a staff health and wellbeing plan.

General practice has the NHS GP Health Service: one of many measures announced to alleviate pressure on general practice, a direct result of the pay settlement following the GP Forward View

What is good for GPs could also be good for community pharmacy. I demand that the new contract for community pharmacy includes adequate resources to allow a framework similar to the NHS Health and Wellbeing Framework to be implemented in community pharmacies. As well as focusing on traditional illness, stress, depression and burnout, the framework should take a positive approach in recognising pharmacists’ resilience.

An important condition of the granting of the contract should be that the contractor will adhere to all the conditions including the NHS framework, so that pharmacist health and wellbeing is delivered to the same standard as GPs and NHS employees. 

While there is anecdotal evidence of stress overwhelming pharmacists, neither the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) nor contractor’s organisations — the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, the National Pharmacy Association, the Company Chemists’ Association and the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies — appear to have taken action to highlight the problem to the NHS.

There hasn’t been enough thought on or investment in the provision of health and wellbeing care for pharmacists and I will work tirelessly to correct this omission.

As an elected member of the RPS’s English Pharmacy Board, I want to secure a debate about stress in pharmacy, with special focus on community pharmacy as it is, in some ways, out of the remit of the NHS. The health and wellbeing of pharmacists should now be a remit of the newly appointed director of pharmacy and membership services at the RPS.

The RPS has no direct role in negotiations about community pharmacy services payments, but it has a clear role in ensuring that factors affecting the quality of service offered by pharmacists are of the highest quality. The shape of the contract, and stress at work, undermines that quality, so the RPS must act with urgency to protect pharmacy professionals and the public.


Hemant Patel, member, English Pharmacy Board, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Hemant Patel is right to raise the issue of workplace stress for pharmacists and the impact this has on their own health and the care they provide to others. There is no doubt that more needs to be done to support pharmacists and their teams to reduce stress and improve their health. Not only will this be better for the wellbeing of the profession, but it will also improve care for patients and the public.

We have published previously on workplace pressure. One of our documents, Reducing workplace pressure through professional empowerment provides practical guidance and recommendations for both employers and pharmacists. Despite this document being seven years old, it is even more relevant now. The progress since we produced this report has been too slow and the RPS will be exploring how we can ensure the recommendations it contains are consistently implemented as good professional practice by employers.

There is a role for us all in helping support our profession. The disparity across healthcare professionals highlighted by Patel is neither fair nor defendable as all healthcare professionals are rightly expected to take on different responsibilities in a transforming NHS. In England, we have written to Steve Brine, public health minister, to make the case for further support so that our profession receives the same level of stress-relief funding as GPs and will continue to do this until we see the changes needed. Our RPS boards in Scotland and Wales are also raising this issue with their ministers, undertaking work to relieve concerns about workplace pressures and understand what more can be done around mentoring, support networks and protected learning time.

The independent charity Pharmacist Support provides confidential support and advice for any pharmacist suffering stress or hardship, so if any pharmacists reading this do not know where to turn for help then please take a look at their website and get in touch with them.


Robbie Turner, director of pharmacy and member experience, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, August 2018, Vol 301, No 7916;301(7916):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205171

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