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Employers’ body confirms community pharmacy conditions are damaging employees’ mental health

The body representing all community pharmacy employers in England has publicly acknowledged that many pharmacies are understaffed and that conditions are causing stress and adversely impacting the mental health of employees.

Fri 21st April 2023 The PDA

It is an employer’s duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their work activities. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this. This means making sure that workers and others are protected from any risks arising from work activities. Yet, in an unusual move for a body representing employers, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has published a report which acknowledges that working in community pharmacy is having a negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of some employees.

The PSNC (soon to be renamed Community Pharmacy England) is recognised by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care as the body that represents NHS pharmacy contractors in England. The PSNC says the report reflects the extreme levels of stress that pharmacy teams and businesses are currently experiencing.

This acknowledgement is not news to pharmacists or the PDA, who has been consistently highlighting the issues of workplace pressures through their campaigning around the Safer Pharmacies Charter and through surveys looking specifically at health and safety in the workplace which demonstrate worrying impacts on its members’ mental health and wellbeing. However, this is the first time that an employers’ body has explicitly accepted this is the case so publicly.

Many pharmacists regularly experience issues such as inadequate staffing levels, system failures and disruption caused when medicines are out of stock, as well as facing threats of violence and abuse from patients.

The PDA believes this is why so many pharmacists decide to reduce their hours, become locums, or leave the sector entirely. It is these working conditions that cause recruitment and retention issues for community pharmacy at a time when there are more registered pharmacists than ever before.

This situation is now confirmed by the PSNC’s own research, which confirms that “many [community pharmacies] are operating understaffed” and that “…many pharmacy staff (81%) say they are struggling to cope due to a significant rise in workload, with 78% reporting that their work is having a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing.”

Alison Jones, PDA Director of Policy said, “This contribution from the PSNC is worrying but not at all surprising. We raise these concerns consistently with employers and other stakeholders as we hear from pharmacists about their levels of stress due to workplace conditions, and how work is impacting on their health and wellbeing. 

It seems only right in Stress Awareness Month that these issues are highlighted once again and that those responsible for workplace health and safety, which includes mental health and wellbeing, take action to address this as a matter of urgency.”

In addition to acting to highlight and prevent such unsafe working conditions, the PDA is also a proud supporter of Pharmacist Support, a charity which provides a wide variety of free and confidential support services including specialist advice, counselling, peer support, and their Wardley Wellbeing Service.

Alison concluded, “While the PDA supports appropriate funding of pharmaceutical services contracts and agrees that NHS England needs to pay more; employers must nevertheless comply with the law and protect employees from unsafe workplace conditions. That the PSNC are acknowledging the current situation on behalf of its members should be a step closer to improving working conditions for pharmacists and their teams, we hope to engage in dialogue with the PSNC to help make this happen.”

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