This year — 2016 — is a special year for Pharmacist Support (previously The Benevolent Fund) because not only does it commemorate the charity’s 175th anniversary, it also marks 20 years of one of its most recognised services, Listening Friends.
The Listening Friends scheme was launched in 1996 by Sue Sharpe, then director of legal services at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and Alan Nathan, then a member of the Society’s Council and chair of the committee that oversaw its disciplinary functions. Both Sharpe and Nathan recognised the impact fitness-to-practise investigations could have on pharmacists and both had a desire to provide an anonymous, non-judgemental listening ear to those in the profession struggling with a range of stressful situations.
Calls to the helpline, as a first port of call cover a variety of issues, both personal and professional, and include employment issues, stress at work, discrimination and harassment, domestic and social issues, family matters, such as relationship breakdown or divorce and bereavement, financial problems, illness and addiction. Where necessary the volunteer will also signpost onto other services for further assistance.
Since the charity’s relaunch in 2009, our volunteers have dealt with 2,000 calls to pharmacists, preregistration trainees and pharmacy students facing stressful situations. All our Listening Friends volunteer their time anonymously so that those under pressure feel able to reach out and in some cases share sensitive information about themselves to a non-judgemental, but valued friend on the other end of the line.
Many pharmacists have been involved with the scheme over the years and their support has touched the lives of thousands of individuals. At the 20th biannual training event in November 2016 we shall be recognising them all. It is thanks to their commitment, both to the charity and their colleague’s welfare, that this scheme continues today.