Over two-thirds of community pharmacists reported experiencing abuse from the public, with burnout, overwork and poor mental health rates also high, and less time allowed for breaks and protected learning, according to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s workforce wellbeing survey.

Rates of abuse were higher in the community sector than in other pharmacy services, with 69% of community pharmacists responding to the survey reporting having experienced verbal or physical abuse from patients and the public, compared to an average of 44%.

In the wellbeing survey, run in collaboration with charity Pharmacist Support, nearly half (45%) of community pharmacists reported poor mental health, compared to an average of 37% across the whole of pharmacy.

Respondents cited inadequate staffing (70%), lack of work/life balance (53%), lack of protected learning time (48%) and lack of colleague/senior support (47%) as reasons for poor mental health and wellbeing.

In addition, community pharmacists were found to be less likely than pharmacists working in other sectors to be offered protected learning time (5% vs an average 22%), while 20% of respondents from community pharmacy reported not being offered breaks, compared 8% across other sectors.

RPS president Claire Anderson said that the government ‘urgently’ needed to improve workforce planning as pharmacy teams risked burnout.

She added that recruitment and retention of pharmacists was crucial if the profession was to play a greater role in the NHS, adding that workforce planning ‘must be backed by long-term investment and training from both employers and governments to make work more rewarding and improve career pathways’.

In particular, she said that protected learning time was important to ensure that there would be enough pharmacists able to train as independent prescribers in order to deliver more clinical services for patients.

The RPS said that its branches in England, Scotland and Wales were in contact with respective governments about workforce plans for pharmacy.

Pharmacist Support’s chief executive, Danielle Hunt, described the survey findings as ‘disturbing’.

She said that the results echoed the stories she heard from individuals seeking support from the charity.

‘During the past year we have experienced a large increase in the number of people reaching out for counselling and looking to share their own experiences with mental health and wellbeing via our ACTNow campaign,’ she said.

Pharmacist Support provides advice and support for issues like employment, finances, personal issues, mental health and work life.

In addition to longer-term workforce planning, Ms Hunt said that there was an ‘immediate need’ for employers to consider what they could do to support pharmacist wellbeing, adding that Pharmacy Support would develop tools, training and support for pharmacy leaders.

Janet Morrison, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) said that the results of the survey were 'deeply concerning' but 'not a surprise considering the immense financial and workload pressures we know [community pharmacies] are operating under'.

'We have been working to raise these issues with Government and will use all the evidence available to press them to help resolve the wider pressures.

'Investing in pharmacies, including improving the mental health and wellbeing of pharmacy teams, would be better for pharmacy, and better for their patients,' she added.

In 2021, 85% of pharmacists told the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) that they, or someone they work with, had experienced verbal or racial abuse whilst at work, with 39% saying that they had to log a police report relating to physical violence or abuse, property damage or theft.

Several community pharmacy multiples have said they have introduced safety measures to help their staff deal with cases of abuse from the public, such as asking staff to wear body cameras and installing panic buttons that are linked to police stations.