The mood in pharmacy is anything but festive at the moment, says an anonymous contractor

As the country went to the polls last week, I wasn’t holding my breath for change. I do query how many people considered their job and pharmacy as a profession when they went to cast their vote. The real poll I’ve been interested in is the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) survey on workplace pressure.

Are we even surprised that 80% of pharmacists risk burnout, according to the survey’s results? The job is relentless - long hours on your feet with little opportunity for a restful lunch break. I often come home late from work, my legs aching long into the night. I often can stay up into the small hours worrying about customer complaints.

Can any of us say we’ve never been interrupted whilst in the bathroom for a patient that is kicking off over how long the wait is. It’s not a job you can turn up to and work passively. This is an active role where you have to think on your feet, literally, and you never know what  might happen next (usually three community pharmacist consultation service consultations in a row with pharmacy staff who don't know what it is). Nothing surprises many of us pharmacists anymore.

The poll also says over half of pharmacists have had to reconsider their career. Again, I’m not surprised. Many are choosing to limit the hours in community pharmacy, working in other areas such as GP practices or outside the profession completely.

It’s sad that we are losing so many talented pharmacists who are more than capable but realise their talents can be used elsewhere in a more respectful working environment. I’m increasingly hearing comments of pharmacist and pharmacy staff being abused, and this is set to continue, particularly if there are more medicines shortages. Many young pharmacists are quickly seeking out jobs in primary care networks, rather than the traditional community pharmacy route. There also seems to be more locums, with fewer people happy to commit to a regular role in a pharmacy. It seems pharmacists want the option of being able to walk away.

One in five respondents to the RPS survey cited a lack of support staff as the main reason for having poor mental health and wellbeing. I’m surprised this isn’t higher. As a locum, you get blacklisted for raising issues and as a contractor, there is no money to fund support, let alone for our own mental wellbeing, leaving us at the debt and stress of running a business that doesn’t break even. I honestly don’t understand why pharmacy support staff work for minimum wage in such a stressful environment – there are many other less demanding jobs with the same pay.

As a profession, we are overly reliant on the fantastic charity Pharmacist Support to support pharmacists and pharmacy students. We haven’t tackled the core issues. The fact is, we can’t do more with less funding and fewer staff. We are humans, not robots.

As we head into Christmas and the new year, the pressure is only going to get worse. Patients can’t seem to understand that we are only closed for a few days. If you are working during this time, I hope you do get a break with your family and friends. I hope you remember life isn’t always about pharmacy, but I don't doubt that many will reflect on the future of their career over the festive period.