More than half (54%) of pharmacists have reported that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected their mental health, while nearly a third (31%) said it has had a ‘significant’ impact.

The survey of 959 pharmacists, carried out by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and charity Pharmacist Support, also found that most respondents (89%) were at risk of burnout.

Community pharmacists commented on the ‘injustice’ of taking on the risk of frontline work with little recognition and no additional remuneration, the report said, and noted that reduced face-to-face GP services during the pandemic had increased demand for their services.   

The impact of Covid-19 on health services has also increased the expectations and decreased the tolerance of patients, the survey found, with several respondents citing examples of abuse.

Accessing support

When asked more generally about their work, 72% of pharmacists said it had negatively affected their mental health and wellbeing, with respondents citing increased demand, inadequate staffing, long hours, and a lack of breaks or time off as reasons for this.

A third of pharmacists (33%) had considered leaving their job and another 34% had thought about leaving the profession altogether, the survey found.

However, more than half of respondents (55%) said they ‘enjoyed’ or ‘really enjoyed’ their job.

The survey also found that pharmacists working in patient-focused roles in general practice appeared to have better mental health than those working in the community or in a hospital.

On the availability of mental health support, 57% of respondents said their employers provided support, but 44% reported feeling ‘uncomfortable’ about trying to access this – with many worrying about confidentiality and trust, and whether doing so would harm their career.

The two bodies concluded that the mental health and wellbeing of the pharmacy workforce is ‘at best adequate’, with existing pressures exacerbated by the pandemic.

‘Incredibly tough’

Sandra Gidley, RPS president, said everyone had felt the ‘extra pressures’ of the pandemic, which had been ‘incredibly tough’ and caused ‘enormous stress’ for pharmacy teams.

‘I’m alarmed that a third of respondents to our survey have considered leaving the profession. The most valuable asset the NHS has is its workforce. Retaining highly skilled healthcare professionals such as pharmacists is essential to patient care,’ she said.

‘We must also work together to ensure the profession becomes more inclusive and is able to attract people from all backgrounds. We’ll be taking these results to Governments, NHS bodies and pharmacy organisations across Great Britain to create the change that’s needed.’

She added: ‘We need to ensure support is available for those who need it, while preventing problems from happening by tackling some of the root causes of poor mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.’

‘Very challenging year’

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

She added: ‘A clear concern for us from these results is that there are a number of barriers to accessing mental health and wellbeing support for pharmacists and pharmacy students.

‘Although the reasons behind this may not always be clear, a large percentage point to a lack of awareness and concerns around confidentiality and stigma. Worryingly there is also a gap in awareness among BAME respondents of employer or NHS-funded occupational services.’

Responding to the report on Twitter, Keith Ridge, NHS England’s chief pharmaceutical officer, said it continues to be a ‘very challenging year’ for NHS staff and pharmacy teams deserve ‘enormous credit for their professionalism and dedication towards caring for patients’.

He added: ‘This latest workforce wellbeing report is again helpful in quantifying the pressure that people are under and the consequences that can impact on individuals’ wellbeing.

‘We will continue to work with the RPS to support pharmacy teams to deliver excellent patient care in these difficult times.’