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Opinion: How do we solve pharmacy's mental health crisis?

Pharmacists' mental health has taken a battering this year

Pharmacy is undergoing a mental health crisis and one way to sort it out is to tackle the issue of funding, says Pharmacy Magazine deputy editor Arthur Walsh

Cast your mind back to the beginning of this year. Reports of a devastating new respiratory illness were beginning to come out of China, but this seemed too distant to be cause for serious concern. Media scares come and go, why think this one would be any different?

By the middle of March it was clear this was wishful thinking. Panic was building as Italy and Spain went into lockdown, journalists (this one included, sadly) were gorging themselves on buzzwords like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘challenging times’ – and pharmacies found themselves at the sharp end of a major crisis. Demand for medicines reached record levels, while staff protection guidelines were still some time away.

Serious battering

The frenzy we saw in spring may be a memory now, but the pandemic is still with us. Inevitably, the mental health of those working on the frontline has taken a serious battering this year, as borne out by a recent survey from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Pharmacist Support.

Seventy-two per cent of pharmacists say their work is having a negative impact on their mental wellbeing, while a shocking 90 per cent feel close to burnout.

Unsurprisingly, most say the Covid crisis is making matters worse. Long hours, abuse from patients, and NHS England’s shrugging reluctance to view pharmacies as a core part of the health service have all taken their toll.

The RPS survey revealed that many pharmacists are nervous about taking advantage of workplace support schemes due to perceived stigma – so tackling these barriers is certainly important.

Many would argue there are deeper issues that need resolving. Even before Covid, workload was through the roof. The cuts of recent years have eaten away at finances, leading to poor staffing levels in many pharmacies.

There is reason to believe staffing issues are particularly acute in the multiples as they try to cut their way into the black, but independents face their own struggles with rising overheads.

“Having the right staffing levels and skill mix in the pharmacy to support safe and effective patient care should be a given,” RPS president Sandra Gidley said of the survey’s worrying findings. “Being able to take breaks, to relieve the pressure or for CPD, is essential.”

It is hard to see a long-term solution to the sector’s mental health crisis that does not address pharmacy funding. As we head into 2021, let’s hope PSNC succeeds in its demands for a review of the five-year contractual settlement and a full write-off of the coronavirus advance payments.

Finally, a word of thanks to our readers. In a year like no other, your heroic efforts have made a powerful impact on your communities and helped save the NHS from collapse. I wish you all a happy Christmas and a far less eventful New Year.

Read: PM editor Richard Thomas sums up an extraordinary year for the nation's pharmacies. 

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