The head of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Scotland has said that at a time of workforce crisis, more must be done to support staff with disabilities.

Speaking about a recent roundtable to raise awareness around disability within pharmacy hosted by RPS Scotland on 3 October, Clare Morrison told The Pharmacist: ‘At a time when we have a workforce crisis, the more that we can do to support people to stay in work and to thrive within the workplace, the better that that is for pharmacy as a whole.’

Pharmacist Farzana Haq, who has a hidden disability and spoke at the event, also argued to The Pharmacist that if community pharmacy is as short-staffed as it says, it is ‘not making use of all the many people who have physical and non-visible disabilities like myself’, talking particularly about her work as a locum in the sector.

However, Ms Haq welcomed commitments to support employees with disabilities made by pharmacy representatives at the event, including:

  • Having open conversations with employees to ensure they are supported
  • Raising awareness by sharing stories of working in pharmacy with a disability
  • Influencing workplace culture change such as by highlighting disability related microaggressions
  • Collaborative working across pharmacy organisations

Roundtable attendees included Scotland’s chief pharmaceutical officer Alison Strath and representatives from across the sector, including Community Pharmacy Scotland, NHS Education for Scotland, the GPhC in Scotland, the Pharmacists Defence Association and NHS Scotland.

Challenges for pharmacists with disabilities

Ms Haq explained that she had experienced challenges across both community pharmacy and practice-based roles.

‘It’s such a physically demanding job that requires staff to stand and stay upright for hours on end. And very few dispensing modifications are made to accommodate a disabled person. Never mind a locum,’ she said, adding that colleagues had called her lazy for needing to sit down.

‘It's difficult because community pharmacy, the NHS… Both of them always appear to be short staffed with a heavy workload. And there's a certain expectation that staff should work extra unpaid to get through duties.

‘But the more I do that, it has a real negative impact on my health, because energy conservation is about doing what you can and doing no more than that, so that you are well, going forward.’

She said that adjustments, such as adding in a perch stool in a community pharmacy or offering flexible working hours and equitable part-time roles within practices and PCNs, would enable more people with disabilities to thrive in the workplace, she said.

Ms Haq said the response to her sharing her story at the event was ‘overwhelming’, and her contribution ‘really went down well’. She added: ‘People were saying how powerful it was to hear a personal story, and then realise how important it is that we do have commitments for the future.’

Ms Morrison, who organised the event, told The Pharmacist that employers had an ‘absolutely essential’ role to play in overcoming structural barriers, such as enabling flexible working.

She said the event was ‘really positive’ and that attendees had said that they would continue the conversation within their own networks.

Continued conversations

Jeremy Balfour MSP, convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Disability, who chaired the event said: ‘There was a real commitment from everyone represented to working together to achieve change, particularly in workplace culture, to make it easier for pharmacists to discuss their individual circumstances with employers.

‘As Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Disability I will be supporting the Royal Pharmaceutical Society to raise awareness of its disability in pharmacy campaign, so that together we can effect change.’

The event was an outworking of the RPS’s disability in pharmacy awareness campaign.

In 2019, an RPS survey found that disability was perceived to be the biggest barrier to working in pharmacy, with 43% of respondents agreeing that it was a barrier.

Disability was also the area where the most respondents (56%) thought that more could be done to support inclusion and diversity.

Ms Morrison said that the next step would be for attendees to continue the conversation within their networks and then come back together to share best practice.

She said: ‘We know from our workforce wellbeing survey that that working in pharmacy with a disability is a huge barrier to entering or staying in the profession.

‘As pharmacists’ professional leadership body, we are committed to ensuring our members have access to the same employment opportunities. That’s why this roundtable is so important.

‘I look forward to continuing collaborative working with pharmacists and pharmacy organisations across Scotland to ensure we have a pharmacy workforce which is inclusive and reflects our society.’

Mr Balfour said that he was ‘delighted’ to chair the meeting and to ‘hear directly from pharmacists and pharmacy organisations across Scotland about what some of the challenges are for pharmacists working with a disability’.