If you go into a community pharmacy, it’s not hard to see the staff being pulled in different directions. Patients are waiting; prescriptions are piling up; delivery drivers need to head out. It’s no easier in other sectors of pharmacy, where most of us are dealing with limited support staff and an increasingly high workload. Sadly, we know that this is having an impact on our teams.

The fourth Workplace Wellbeing survey, run by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in partnership with the charity Pharmacist Support, on the state of mental health and wellbeing in pharmacy, was released earlier this year. It highlighted that the risk of burnout of those working within the profession remains worryingly high.

It’s not just the workload itself that is making our colleagues unwell. Of those surveyed, 34% reported being frequently unable to take a break and 44% have experienced physical or verbal abuse in the past six months. We are working in an environment that is setting us up to fail and that is failing both ourselves and our patients. It is unsurprising that 73% of those surveyed considered leaving their role or leaving the profession.

The recently published NHS staff survey doesn’t paint a better picture. Over 1.3 million NHS employees in England were invited to participate in the survey between September and December 2022. It’s not just pharmacists: the cohort of those surveyed ranged from registered nurses and midwives to those working in maintenance and commissioning. These groups all have an important role in keeping our health service going.

Of those surveyed, 31.8% reported that they do not have enough energy for family and friends during leisure time. Furthermore, 44.8% of staff that have felt unwell because of work-related stress in the past 12 months. Even sadder is that 55.6% of staff have come to work in the last three months despite not feeling well enough to perform their duties.

There will of course be a variety of reasons staff have come in despite not feeling well enough - undoubtedly the cost-of-living crisis will be playing a part - but I do think that worry and concern for patients does play a part. Looking after the morale and wellbeing of healthcare workers is also a patient safety issue. Only 55.6% of those surveyed said they had adequate materials, supplies and equipment to do their work.

Around a quarter of staff (26.4%) agreed with the statement ‘there are enough staff at my organisation for me to do my job properly,’ which was a very slightly lower percentage than last year. The ‘great resignation’ (when people first began leaving their jobs en masse in early 2021) was triggered by the chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic. Frontline healthcare workers and others working in high-risk roles, sometimes for low pay or with little support had, had enough. As we can see- we aren’t seeing signs of this slowing down either.

At the heart of the NHS are people. Indeed, the NHS Constitution states that the NHS belongs to the people: ‘It is there to improve our health and wellbeing, supporting us to keep mentally and physically well, to get better when we are ill and, when we cannot fully recover, to stay as well as we can to the end of our lives’. How can our teams continue to do this with the lack of support for them?

The PSNC 2023 Pharmacy Pressures survey, released on 13 April, highlighted that many pharmacies are operating understaffed due to both insufficient funding (48%) and staff unavailability (34%). It is time for the government to wake up, and come up with a cross- party solution to the health and wellbeing of health and social care staff. There have been six secretary of states for health and social care since the Conservatives came into power in 2010, including Jeremy Hunt and Steve Barclay who had second stints. This flip-flopping does nothing for continuity. Perhaps it is time that the basic benefits and support available to those who work at the House of Commons, are also available to health and social care staff, namely:

  • Subsidised gym membership.
  • Catering for all preferences and budgets.
  • Time off for study leave for certain qualifications.
  • 30 days annual leave per annum.
  • Mental health and wellbeing support.

Instead, many of us are too tired to go to the gym, having been on our feet all day. Lunch, if we had time for it at all, is normally nothing to shout about (indeed, we are normally being shouted at by patients for daring to have lunch).

There is also no protected learning time or support to become Independent Prescribers, though we are expected to find the time to do this, as well as to find supervisors - some of whom are charging a hefty fee. Don’t get me started on the numerous hours of personal time doing training for the Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS).

Then there is the perpetual problem of teams being asked to do more work for no extra funding. It is farcical that the new pharmacy contraception service will launch across England on 24 April 2023, but without agreement from the sector’s negotiating body.

As Janet Morrison, PSNC chief executive, has said: ‘Capacity in the sector is now so stretched that more money is needed to safely resource additional work.’1 Currently, Cabinet ministers in the House of Commons receive their MP salary and an additional amount of £67,505. Even they recognise that doing extra work should receive a fee commensurate.2

It’s certainly time for a culture change when it comes to the health and wellbeing of healthcare teams. Perhaps it is also time for those in the corridors of power in our countries to set some good examples?

Thorrun Govind, pharmacist (written in a personal capacity; separate to any organisations to which I am linked).


1. https://www.thepharmacist.co.uk/news/contraception-service-to-start-in-10-days-time-without-sector-agreement/

2. https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9514/