Just 52% of pharmacists enjoy ‘some aspects’ of their work or study, a new wellbeing survey from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and charity Pharmacist Support has found.

And nearly nine in 10 pharmacists are at high risk of burnout, the survey suggested, prompting calls to address the underlying factors contributing to poor mental health and wellbeing.

Meanwhile, the president of the RPS has warned that ambitions to expand pharmacist prescribing services will be 'frustrated' without protected learning time.

The RPS and Pharmacist Support are due to take the findings forwards to a roundtable that they will convene at the end of February with the NHS, professional bodies, trade unions, educators and regulators.

Some 1,188 pharmacists responded to the survey, which was open to pharmacists working in all settings in England, Scotland and Wales, including RPS members and non-members, between 16 October and 11 November 2023.

It found that 86% of pharmacists were at high risk of burnout, with respondents identifying factors with a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing including:

  • inadequate staffing (identified by 69% of respondents);
  • lack of work-life balance (52%);
  • insufficient protected learning time (50%);
  • absence of colleague or senior support (46%);
  • and long working hours (42%).

Six in 10 respondents (60%) said they had considered leaving the profession within the last year.

Just 29% said they 'usually' felt energised at work and less than half (46%) said that being a pharmacist was the only type of work they could imagine themselves doing.

Less than a third (29%) said that they had enough energy after work for leisure activities, 80% said that they usually felt 'worn out and weary' after work, and more than three-quarters (78%) said they needed more time than they had in the past to relax and feel better.

More than eight in 10 (86%) said there were days when they felt tired before arriving at work, and 47% said they sometimes felt 'sickened' by their work activities.

During the working day, 40% of pharmacists said they chose not to or were frequently unable to take a rest break, and 13% were not offered a break at all.

And 61% said they were not offered sufficient protected learning time.

Many of the statements that pharmacists were asked to respond to came from the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory, which is used to assess the severity of work-related burnout.

Chief executive of Pharmacist Support, Danielle Hunt said the results formed a 'stark reminder of the urgent need for action to address the mental health challenges faced by pharmacists'.

And she stressed that the findings needed to be used 'to inform concrete steps towards creating more supportive and sustainable work environments within the pharmacy profession'.

She also highlighted a course launched by the charity in the last year entitled 'Embracing a Workplace Wellbeing Culture', which she said was prompted by the recognition that the conversation needed to move 'beyond individual mental health' to a broader focus on 'positive workplace culture'.

The survey findings also drew attention to the issue of abuse that pharmacists receive from patients.

Some 41% of respondents said they had experienced verbal abuse at their place of work or study within the last six months.

While abuse came mainly from patients and the public, around 25% of those who had experienced abuse said it came from a colleague or manager within the workplace.

And 7% of all respondents said they had experienced physical abuse.

'No one should have to face abuse in the workplace,' RPS president Professor Claire Anderson commented.

'Such behaviour undermines the wellbeing of individuals and compromises the quality of care provided to patients.

'The survey results demonstrate the human cost of coping with the relentless workplace pressures that pharmacists and trainees experience daily.'

She suggested that solving the issues would require 'collaborative efforts from governments, employers and the NHS to create more supportive and fulfilling work environments'.

Professor Anderson also highlighted the 'paramount' need for protected learning time as more pharmacists take on prescribing roles.

'Without it, ambitions to expand prescribing services will be frustrated,' she warned.

'A significant increase in learning opportunities for prescribers, and in workplace supervision capacity for designated prescribing practitioners, is essential.'

A previous report published in October by the RPS and Pharmacist Support suggested that 'levels of burnout have been consistently very high for several years' and 'urgent action is needed to turn the tide'.

At the time Ms Hunt said that a 'cultural change' was needed but warned that it 'will not happen overnight'.

And recently Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) warned MPs that pharmacist wellbeing ‘has patient safety implications’.