Just under a third (31%) of pharmacists said that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their mental health and wellbeing to a significant extent, according to a survey conducted by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and the charity Pharmacist Support.
Just over half (54%) of the respondents said the pandemic had affected their mental health and wellbeing to a partial extent.
The survey — the second annual mental health and wellbeing survey conduced by the two bodies — ran from 24 September until 12 October 2020. A total of 959 responses were received, with around half (53%) of those based in community pharmacy. Pharmacists in England represented 76% of responses, with 15% coming from Scotland and 8% from Wales.
Nine out of ten (89%) respondents considered themselves to be at risk of burnout — an increase compared with the 80% reported in 2019.
And nearly three-quarters (72%) said that their work had negatively impacted their mental health and wellbeing: a small decrease compared with the 74% who responded this way in 2019. Respondents identified workload, inadequate staffing, long hours and a lack of work–life balance as some of the reasons behind this negative impact.
Provisionally registered pharmacists represented only 3% of respondents, but among this cohort, a much higher proportion (84%) said that work had negatively impacted their wellbeing, highlighting a “lack of support” and “the weight of expectations”.
Despite the risk of burnout, less than half of respondents (44%) said they would feel comfortable accessing employer-provided mental health and wellbeing support. Some respondents expressed concerns around the confidentiality of such services, and about the perceived stigma associated with mental health issues. The survey findings also showed that a greater proportion (45%) of black, Asian and minority ethnic respondents were unaware of such occupational services, compared with white respondents (27%).
Just 10% of respondents said that their work had a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing, and just over half (55%) of respondents said that they enjoyed their work.
A third of respondents had, in the past year, considered leaving the pharmacy profession: a figure that Sandra Gidley, president of the RPS, said she was “alarmed” to see, noting that “the most valuable asset the NHS has is its workforce— retaining highly skilled healthcare professionals such as pharmacists is essential to patient care”.
Gidley also said that the additional pressures brought on by the pandemic had 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, while preventing problems from happening by tackling some of the root causes of poor mental health and wellbeing in the workplace”.
RPS campaigning had, Gidley added, “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.”
Danielle Hunt, chief executive of Pharmacist Support, said the charity was concerned that the survey found “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”.
- This article was amended on 30 November 2020 to clarify that there is a perceived stigma associated with mental health issues.