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Calls for urgent action to tackle burnout across UK pharmacy sector

Urgent action is needed to help ‘turn the tide’ on high levels of burnout among pharmacists, the organisations behind a new pharmacy 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 report adds.

The Workforce Wellbeing Roundtable report, published on 4 October by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and Pharmacist Support, provides an overview of the current wellbeing issues faced by pharmacy teams across all sectors of pharmacy in the UK.

The 17-page blueprint draws on insights from a roundtable event in May 2023 attended by representatives from the NHS, pharmacy professional bodies, employers, trade unions, educators and regulators.

‘The evidence presented [at the roundtable] demonstrated that burnout across the profession is high, and this is impacting pharmacists’ wellbeing. This is demonstrated across all sectors of pharmacy,’ the report said.

It also highlights findings from the RPS’ 2022 workforce survey, which showed almost nine in 10 pharmacists felt they were at high risk of burnout and 73% of respondents had considered leaving their role or leaving the profession

The report also cited recent data from the charity Pharmacist Support demonstrating a 49% increase in referrals for its counselling services when comparing the first three months of 2022 to the same period in 2023.

Risk factors of burnout highlighted in the roundtable 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.

When it comes to pharmacists working in secondary care, the report stated that, as with other healthcare professionals, pharmacists are experiencing high levels of burnout and morale is at an all-time low, as demonstrated by NHS staff surveys.

The report said: ‘Indeed, it is concerning that there is a positive correlation of data between NHS staff survey wellbeing and mortality. This research has shown that working in well-structured and supported teams is a predictor of patient mortality, staff absenteeism and turnover.’

The report also observed that further research and collaborative working are required to understand the ‘most effective measures’ to address workforce issues.

‘Additional conversations and integration are required to understand the discussions being held by Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) around wellbeing across all areas of practice, and the degree of consideration that these have been given in ICB workforce plans’, it said.

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.’

A version of this story was originally published by our sister title The Pharmacist.

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