The chief pharmaceutical officer (CPhO) for England has warned that pharmacy teams will experience challenging circumstances over the coming weeks and months, due to high demand, staff shortages, sickness and industrial action.

But in a joint letter with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) published today, CPhO David Webb and GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin sought to reassure pharmacists that any such context would be considered ‘in the unlikely event’ that they were referred to the regulator.

‘We know that everyone working in pharmacy continues to experience high and sustained demands and pressures, and exceptional challenges,’ the letter said.

It added: ‘It’s clear that there will be further challenges over the coming weeks and months and that this pressure is likely to be exacerbated by staff shortages due to sickness or caring responsibilities, as well as the ongoing industrial action.’

This comes as NHS England’s national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said today that this January ‘could be one of the most difficult starts to the year the NHS has ever faced’, with six consecutive days of industrial action alongside one of the health system’s busiest periods.

Mr Webb and Mr Rudkin warned that the impact on pharmacy teams ‘both personally and professionally’ would be ‘significant’ and ‘potentially prolonged’, with some pharmacists needing to make ‘some difficult decisions’.

They instructed pharmacists to use their professional judgement to assess and mitigate risk, and to deliver safe and effective care for their patients within their scope of practice, pointing to regulatory standards which exist to ‘provide a framework for decision-making in a wide range of situations’.

The CPhO and GPhC chief executive also noted that pharmacists may be concerned about being referred to the professional regulator about their practice amid such pressures.

They sought to reassure pharmacists that in ‘the unlikely event’ that concerns were raised to the GPhC, the regulator would consider the context that they were working in at the time, including the working environment and ‘all relevant resources, guidelines or protocols’.

And they added that they expected employers, educational supervisors, professional bodies and national health and social care organisations ‘to take the challenging situations [pharmacists] may be facing into account’.

They also urged pharmacists to work closely with colleagues in other local pharmacy services, with the wider multidisciplinary team, and with the local NHS leadership and authorities, to ensure patients had access to timely care. ‘This co-operation and partnership working will be vitally important,’ they said.

And while they acknowledged that patient care would be pharmacists’ primary concern, they also urged them to take care of their own wellbeing and that of their colleagues, pointing to employer and NHS support that may be available.

A survey carried out last year by charity Pharmacist Support found that community pharmacists were particularly at risk of burnout, with chief executive Danielle Hunt recently calling for more support for pharmacists working in this sector.

The letter from Mr Webb and Mr Rudkin also thanked pharmacists for their ‘continued professionalism’ and ‘ongoing hard work’, highlighting that it is ‘making a major difference for the communities we serve’.

Today’s communication follows a letter from the CPhO to the profession published last month which called for ‘effective and sustainable’ relationships between general practice and community pharmacy teams at a local level, in order to make a success of the new and updated services including Pharmacy First.

What mental health support is available to pharmacists? A note from Pharmacist Support

Here at Pharmacist Support we understand the pressures of working in pharmacy, and the toll this can take on pharmacists’ mental health.

In order to help prevent mental health issues escalating in our pharmacy family, we have established our Wellbeing Learning Platform, which includes several wellbeing workshops that pharmacists, pharmacy students, and trainees can access for free at a time and place of their choosing. We also offer our Listening Friend service, giving pharmacists the chance to speak confidentially and anonymously to one of our trained pharmacist volunteers, and our counselling service, where pharmacists can receive direct, confidential, psychological support. Individuals can also access mental health and wellbeing information and resources on our website.

For further information on Pharmacist Support, its free and confidential services and campaign activities visit, email [email protected] or call 0808 168 2233.

You can also contact the Samaritans on 116123.