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Pharmacists on mental health impact of Covid: ‘The pressure has been tremendous’

mental health awareness, mental health

By Rachel Carter

11 May 2021

More than three-quarters (80%) of 99 pharmacy professionals responding to a recent survey said the work pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic had impacted on their mental health.

The survey, which covered pharmacy finances, services and staff, ran on the Pharmacist’s website between 2 March and 12 April, and the full findings will be published next week.

But to mark Mental Health Awareness week 2021, we are today sharing some of the accounts pharmacists and other staff shared with us about their experiences over the past year:  

‘All staff have been impacted as they have lost many patients to Covid. They have worked flat out with no let up as not allowed to have proper down-time, for example holiday, to recharge and no social contact to release the normal stress let alone the extra that Covid has brought to our daily work life. They can’t have a pay rise or bonus for the work they have done as finances are very delicate. It’s a horrible situation we’ve worked through with no recognition from anyone.’

‘Massive pressure of workload, financial uncertainties, worried staff, anxious staff. 30% have had Covid and some been very poorly. It’s been a tough year.’

‘We have worked so hard to maintain the level of service. The abuse we have had off the public is disgraceful. I feel massively undervalued and used and will be considering changing my career as a result.’

‘The last year has been stressful for all pharmacy staff especially as we have been subject to verbal abuse from customers and increased workload – the local surgery closed and prevented patient entry to the pharmacy inside so at one point we had two pharmacies working from our premises. The staff have worked incredibly hard with little recognition from the public and continue to work under a lot of pressure.’

‘The last year has been very hard on community pharmacy, impacted by lack of funding from Government. Feel very unvalued as a result.’

‘The pressure has been tremendous.’

‘It has been an extremely difficult time in pharmacy and the pressures have been intense at times.’

‘We feel undervalued, overlooked and we are sick of being taken for granted by politicians. Throughout the pandemic, we have been the only place where patients have been able to come in and have a face to face conversation about any ailments. We had GPs sending patients to us to have their blood pressure taken for phone appointments with themselves. It doesn’t feel like we got the support or enough support as we should have. I honestly contemplated leaving the job – the NHS does not seem worth working for anymore.’

‘It has been very challenging for all the work colleagues in the pharmacy to manage the expectations of the patients and general public – especially Covid-sceptic individuals who do not follow Government guidance.’

‘It has been extremely stressful with a great burden on poorly paid staff. I have had a lot of locum work as younger pharmacists seem to have been unable to cope – and quite a few have given up the profession. This seems to be because they are living alone in flats or rooms and are taking a weighty responsibility without sufficient support. It seems quite onerous that they start out having to “manage” experienced staff who are much older than them and find themselves isolated in market towns which don’t have a younger social life. I went from feeling irritated by their snowflakey-ness to sympathising that this is a bad way to start a career and feel post-registration they should have structured mentoring. But really they need to work alongside other young pharmacists – as in the hospital sector.’

‘All of the staff have been impacted in terms of mental health, the increased workload and pressures have caused short fuses with each other.’

‘Mentally shattered. Disgusted by both central and local government behaviours.’

‘The service that our profession has provided over the last year has been amazing. We don’t get the praise from outside as much as we would like! Nonetheless we just carry on, even though most are running on empty.’

‘Footfall has increased phenomenally. Many, many patients still believe that their surgeries are closed and/or that they shouldn’t even try to access their GP. More and more, these patients have presented at community pharmacy requiring time and resources. We are already so stretched and picking up the slack from GP surgeries makes the workload so mammoth that at times it feels unmanageable.’

‘The stress, not only of working under increased pressure each day, but of not knowing whether the Covid “loans” will have to be repaid, is ever present. It is not easy to continue to do your professional job with the barriers of masks, visors and screens.’

‘Incredibly tough’ year

Commenting on the findings, Danielle Hunt, chief executive of Pharmacist Support, said that charity was ‘acutely aware’ of the negative impact of the pandemic on pharmacy teams.

‘The figures from the latest research carried out by the Pharmacist echo that of our own research around workforce wellbeing that we conducted with the RPS at the end of 2020, whereby 85% of those who responded said the pandemic had impacted their mental health either partially or to a significant extent,’ she said.

‘As the profession’s charity, we rely on vital insights like these to help inform and develop our support. As such, we have recently launched a new free and confidential counselling service to help any pharmacist, trainee or student who may be struggling emotionally or psychologically.’

She added: ‘We believe working together to encourage better mental health awareness and practice across the pharmacy sector is crucial to ensuring our pharmacy family feels supported and want to continue in their roles.’

Robbie Turner, director of pharmacy and member services at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said the pandemic had been ‘incredibly tough’ on pharmacy teams.

‘While pressures on the pharmacy profession are not new, they have certainly been compounded and magnified by the pandemic. Tackling the root causes of poor mental health in the workplace is now critical,’ he said.

‘That’s why RPS has made the prevention of poor wellbeing a priority and is calling on Governments, NHS bodies, employers and pharmacy bodies across Great Britain to take action. A focus on demand on the profession, long working hours, inadequate staffing levels and regular and routine breaks are just some of the areas that need urgent attention.’

He added that initiatives introduced during the pandemic – such as flexible opening hours and access to NHS occupational health support – should be ‘routinely adopted’ going forward.   

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