Government has ‘no plans’ to offer NHS staff mental health support to pharmacists, it says

Exclusive: The Department of Health and Social Care says it will not open up the NHS Practitioner Health service to pharmacists.

Mental health support

There are no plans to change the NHS Practitioner Health (NHSPH) service to include pharmacists, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has told The Pharmaceutical Journal.

This is despite calls from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) to include the profession, and recognition from pharmacy minister Jo Churchill that the need for a permanent wellbeing service for pharmacists is “quite glaring” and “part of the conversation as to how we look after people and maintain people’s physical and mental health”.

NHS Practitioner Health is a service designed to support certain NHS staff with issues around mental health, including stress, depression and addiction. It is currently only open to doctors and dentists.

In November 2019, Claire Anderson, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board, wrote to health secretary Matt Hancock asking him to include pharmacists. Sandra Gidley, president of the RPS, described pharmacists’ exclusion as “a real missed opportunity to create a level playing field for pharmacists who need help in the face of overwhelming workplace pressure”.

When asked whether the DHSC could offer an update on the RPS’s call for pharmacists to be included in the NHS Practitioner Health service, a spokesperson said that the department has “no plans to change the NHSPH service”. They added that a separate, seven-day support line “is available for all NHS staff, including pharmacists”.

A spokesperson for the DHSC said: “We recognise the continued contribution made by community pharmacists in providing safe care to patients and we are doing everything possible to support them.

“Now, more than ever, the health and wellbeing of all those working on the front line, including pharmacy teams, is paramount. A range of free support is available for staff across the NHS and community pharmacists, such as a helpline, individual coaching and a Mental Wealth Academy Pharmacy Wellbeing & Support Hub.”

The Pharmaceutical Journal previously revealed in June 2020 that an internal NHS England scoping document produced in January 2019 found “limited evidence” that pharmacists need specialist mental health support through the NHSPH service.

Robbie Turner, RPS director of pharmacy and member experience, said pharmacists had “shown incredible resilience, remaining open throughout [the COVID-19 pandemic] for patients to get the vital healthcare support and advice that they need on a daily basis.

“Our mental health and wellbeing survey last December showed that many pharmacists were close to burnout even before the pandemic. Events over the past months have only increased the pressures that they face.

“Our profession has had access to some mental health and wellbeing support during COVID-19, but in the long term, access to the NHS Practitioner Health Service must be made available for pharmacists on the frontline.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ September 2020, Vol 305, No 7941;305(7941):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20208289

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