Employers and the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) should do more to prevent mental ill health among pharmacists and to support those struggling with mental health episodes in the light of the death of talented young pharmacist Alison Stamps, MPs have said.
Stamps, a pharmacist for Boots Bishop Auckland, County Durham, took her own life shortly after finishing work on 25 May 2015.
In a House of Commons adjournment debate held on 25 October 2017, her MP Kevan Jones used her case to highlight the pressures placed on pharmacists at work and to call for more mental health support and awareness in the workplace.
He commended the actions of her store manager who, in December 2014, noticed Stamps was struggling. She gave her a phone number for an independent counselling service and encouraged her to speak to her GP and her family, and when she did not, arranged an appointment with a GP and attended with her. The GP offered antidepressants, which Stamps did not wish to take, gave her a crisis number to ring and suggested some other coping mechanisms.
The store manager reported her concerns about Stamps, who she knew was self-harming, to her area manager, and the case was flagged up with the firm’s HR department.
“No alarm bells rang in Boots’ central HR department that one of its pharmacists was in a crisis situation and no action seems to have been taken,” Jones told MPs.
On 25 May 2015, Alison took an overdose of prescription medication in a hotel room, Jones said. At the coroner’s inquest, it was determined that Alison had taken her own life while suffering from depression.
Jones suggested that the government should explore replicating the tailored confidential mental health support which has been made available to doctors, who also fear being disciplined if they talk about their mental health issues.
Health minister Jackie Doyle-Price, whose remit covers mental health, emphasised that “the buck stops with the employers”.
“It is they who must ensure that there is sufficient mental health support for their workers,” she said.
Doyle-Price told MPs the case was “a clear lesson that employers need to be alive to the mental health needs of their staff, and I make it clear that that is what we expect”.
Elizabeth Fagan, Boots UK managing director, said in a statement that her company “continues to work very hard to have the right support processes in place to help both colleagues and their managers when confronted with these issues”.
“We have had a number of company-wide measures and initiatives in place for some years and, more recently, have continued adding to them, some of which have been implemented since the tragic loss of Alison,” she said.
These include greater mental health awareness training and the availability of face-to-face counselling from an independent organisation, she added.
Jones said during the debate that the GPhC was “aware of complaints concerning Boots’ working practices for pharmacists, but had taken no action”, pointing out that it was “disappointing that the regulator sees itself as a peripheral player on the issue of workplace pressure and stress”.
GPhC chief executive, Duncan Rudkin, said in a statement: “We think everyone in pharmacy has a role to play in improving the support available for pharmacy professionals living with mental health conditions and in tackling the stigma that too often exists around mental health.
“We want to work closely with organisations including Pharmacist Support, the leadership bodies and employers, and with individuals, to consider what more we and others can do on this important issue.”