The exclusion of pharmacy contractors from the dedicated NHS practitioner mental health support service is ‘fundamentally unfair’, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has said.

The NHS Practitioner Health service has been extended to cover all NHS doctors and dentists in England following successful pilots in London and across the country, health secretary Matt Hancock announced yesterday (21 October).

The service is funded by NHS England and provides 24/7 confidential mental health support in person or via a dedicated phoneline and an overnight ‘crisis text service’ staffed by 200 specially-trained experts, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

However, community pharmacists and others not directly employed by the NHS, such as pharmacists working in care homes and GP practices, are excluded from accessing the service.


'A missed opportunity'


RPS President Sandra Gidley said: ‘Pharmacists currently suffer a two-tier system whereby those employed directly by the NHS can access support, but those delivering NHS services in other settings are denied it. This is fundamentally unfair.’

‘Today's announcement is a real missed opportunity to create a level playing field for pharmacists who need help in the face of overwhelming workplace pressure.’

A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘NHS staff dedicate themselves to delivering excellent, safe care to patients, with many of them facing very challenging situations on a daily basis. We owe it to them to provide the mental and physical health support they deserve and the upcoming People Plan will put wellbeing of all employees across the health service at the heart of ensuring the NHS is a great place to work.’


‘Still a great deal of stigma’


Healthcare professionals outside medicine and dentistry face ‘far less stigma’ when accessing mental health support through mainstream NHS routes because care is less likely to be delivered by colleagues or alongside their own patients, according to the DHSC.

However, Ms Gidley said that mental health stigma affects pharmacists ‘as much as anyone else’.

She said: ‘Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of stigma in seeking mental health support which affects pharmacists as much as anyone else.

‘Pharmacy is the country's third largest health profession and it's plain wrong to exclude some colleagues from rapid, confidential access to the care and support that other colleagues can benefit from.'

Earlier this month, the RPS launched a campaign calling for community pharmacists to be given access to NHS-funded mental health support services.

Ms Gidley urged pharmacists to complete the RPS’ survey on workforce wellbeing, also launched this month, so the membership body can ‘make the case’ to the Government for equal access to mental health support.