There is an “urgent” need to address the mental health needs of community pharmacists, the medical director of NHS Practitioner Health has warned.
Speaking to The Pharmaceutical Journal, Dame Clare Gerada said that community pharmacists were “at risk of being missed out” by the mental health and wellbeing support currently on offer for healthcare professionals.
NHS Practitioner Health, which is a free, confidential NHS service, is currently available for doctors and dentists across England with mental illness and addiction problems, who are working or looking to return to clinical practice.
Dame Gerada said that community pharmacists “tend to work in isolation” and “because of the pandemic they’ve had to limit the number of staff that they’ve had working with them and yet they’ve been busier than ever”.
“They have always struggled financially, and I’m sure they’ll be struggling coming out of this because of all the additional costs they’ve had.
“Plus, people forget them, a bit like they forget GPs,” she said.
She also added that there was a need to pay attention to “special groups” within community, such as locum pharmacists, who may have lost income during the pandemic and could be experiencing significant worries about their future.
A recent study of 1,194 frontline healthcare staff, including pharmacists, found that 58% reported experiencing mental health problems.
On 20 April 2021, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee highlighted that “pharmacy staff now have rapid access to mental health services and support” at one of 40 hubs, offering “free and confidential clinical assessments by trained mental health professionals plus access to talking therapies and other secondary care mental health services”.
It added that NHS England had also worked with NHS Practitioner Health to set up an enhanced mental health service to which hubs can refer primary care health team members with more complex needs.
However, Dame Gerada said it was “much harder” to provide the NHS Practitioner Health service to pharmacists working in the community compared with those in hospital settings.
“If you’re a single-handed community pharmacist, and there’s a webinar on how to address insomnia in the middle of the day, you can’t go. So, what do you do? You have to do it in the evenings, when in the evenings you actually want to not have to go online, you want to just rest with your feet up.
“I think we need to be addressing the needs of community pharmacists, and we need to do it pretty urgently.”
When asked about the warning signs to look out for, Dame Gerada referred to her own experience of burnout.
“The overwhelming feature was I stopped being curious about my patients, I stopped being interested in them, and it became a chore.
“I was also envious that I was spending more time with them than I was spending on my own family,” she said.
“So I think if you’re finding your work a chore; if, when Mrs Bloggs comes in, who you’re normally very kind to, you now just want to get her out; stop and think ‘Am I burnt out? Do I need to get some help? Do I even need to just step away from work for a little while and get myself sorted?’”
According to NHS England, the mental health and wellbeing hubs will be going live across the country “over the next few weeks” and the locations of the hubs, along with details of how staff can access them, will be available on its website.