A recent initiative to prevent suicide among healthcare workers only supports pharmacists employed by the NHS and does not currently extend to community pharmacists, a mental health charity has warned.

Pharmacist Support said that while it welcomed the new toolkit published by NHS England (NHSE) earlier this month, community pharmacists were also ‘in great need of support’.

The new toolkit aims to help prevent suicide in the NHS workforce in England by providing employers and organisations with relevant data, risk factors, warning signs and strategies.

Danielle Hunt, chief executive of wellbeing charity Pharmacist Support told The Pharmacist that the organisation ‘very much welcomes the holistic workforce suicide prevention programme’ outlined by NHSE earlier this month.

‘However, as it stands, this would only support pharmacists working for the NHS, and not those working in other areas such as community pharmacy,’ she added.

A workforce wellbeing survey carried out by the charity had found that ‘those working in community pharmacy are at higher risk of burnout, so are also in great need of support’, she warned.

She also highlighted that while the ‘concerning statistics’ shared by the toolkit ‘do not explicitly reference pharmacists, they do link an increased risk of suicide with healthcare workers who have easy access to lethal drugs’.

And she said that the charity was struck by the similarities in risk factors for both nurses and pharmacists.

The NHSE toolkit suggested that nurses could be at ‘particular risk’ of suicide ‘due to a unique combination of attributing factors’ such as workplace pressures, patient demands and worries about seeking mental health support.

Ms Hunt said that the workforce wellbeing survey run last autumn by Pharmacist Support and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) had highlighted similar risk factors for pharmacists, including ‘ long working hours and a lack of engagement of mental health support due to fears of job insecurity or perceived collegial failure’.

Pharmacist Support also welcomed the education and training on mental health proposed by NHSE within its toolkit.

She said that the charity felt that this was ‘key to the prevention of deterioration of mental health and is why we are focused on delivering this across the whole profession’.

But training should be extended to look at workplace culture and how this can impact mental health, Ms Hunt added.

While talking about mental health and providing guidance on taking action around suicide is extremely important, she suggested that talking about mental health as part of a wider piece of work on workplace culture was important ‘to lay the groundwork for conversations to take place’.

And she pointed to a course being developed by the charity for pharmacy mangers and leaders to support them to create a positive workplace culture.

She also said that this would be the topic of Pharmacist Support’s annual ACTNow wellbeing campaign, which runs this year from 16 October – 4 November.

Tase Oputu, England board chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) also expressed her concern at the increased risk of suicide among healthcare workers.

'We have seen first hand that pharmacists are working under high amounts of pressure', she said.

And she added that governments, the NHS and employers 'need to address head-on the issues causing high levels of workplace stress and ensure that pharmacy teams are supported.'

The RPS also voiced its support for government proposals to review guidelines around the supply of medicines, saying that 'stronger measures are long overdue'.

'We have long called for an end to multibuy deals on paracetamol and sadly continue to hear of cases where retailers are flouting voluntary codes of conduct,' said Ms Oputu.

'We would like to see legislation to stop retailers offering multibuy deals on analgesics,' she added.

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. Suicide prevention is incredibly important, and we firmly believe in the provision of proactive services to prevent crises from developing. 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 www.pharmacistsupport.org, email [email protected] or call 0808 168 2233.

You can also contact the Samaritans on 116123.