Urgent action is needed to help ‘turn the tide’ on high levels of burnout among pharmacists, those behind a new wellbeing report have warned.

A lack of funding to support pharmacists and their teams is impacting staff wellbeing and more research is required to understand the ‘most effective measures’ to address workforce issues, the document by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and Pharmacist Support added.

The Pharmacy Workforce Wellbeing report, published last week, provides an overview of the current wellbeing issues faced by pharmacy teams across the UK.

Drawing on recent workforce surveys, the document also contains insights from a roundtable event in May 2023 attended by representatives from the NHS, professional bodies, employers, trade unions, educators and regulator.

The 17-page blueprint highlights findings from the organisations’ 2022 workforce survey which showed nine in 10 pharmacists felt they were at high risk of burnout, with the number rising to 96% for pharmacists working in the community.

Risk factors of burnout highlighted in the report included: working longer hours, increased workload such as high prescription and patient numbers, and voluminous administrative duties.

Poor work-life balance and access to management resources were also described as risk factors.

In addition, the report also cited the 2023 Pharmacy Pressures Survey, carried out by the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (now Community Pharmacy England), which found that many community pharmacies were operating while understaffed due to both underfunding (48%) and staff availability (34%).

Furthermore, community pharmacy staff were finding it hard to cope due to a significant rise in workload (81%) and many reported that work was having a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing (78%).

But despite burnout, community pharmacy continues to ensure supply is safe, the report stated.

It added that there was ‘very limited evidence’ from the UK that demonstrates a direct causal relationship between pharmacist wellbeing and patient safety in community pharmacy settings.

Current pharmacy practice has an ‘excellent safety record’, added the report, with dispensed errors representing 0.04% of the total volume of NHS medicines dispensed by community pharmacies.

The report’s executive summary also observed that lack of funding to support the work of pharmacists and their teams can impact burnout, and that further research and collaborative working are required to understand the ‘most effective measures’ to address workforce issues.

Community pharmacy, in particular, must be integrated into the healthcare system so that its full potential can be realised, the summary concluded.

Commenting on the report, James Davies, RPS director of England, said: ‘While individuals are encouraged to prioritise their wellbeing and reduce their personal risk of burnout, it's crucial to acknowledge that many factors affecting wellbeing must be addressed.’

This, he added, requires ‘a collective effort from employers, regulators, the NHS, unions, charities, and pharmacy teams themselves’.

Meanwhile, Danielle Hunt, chief executive of Pharmacist Support, said that a ‘cultural change’ was needed but warned that it ‘will not happen overnight’.

She added: ‘Equally [we] recognise that levels of burnout have been consistently very high for several years, and urgent action is needed to turn the tide.’