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Vast majority of hospital pharmacists at risk of burnout, new RPS wellbeing survey shows

Almost nine in 10 hospital pharmacists are at high risk of burnout, according to the results of the fifth annual workforce and wellbeing survey from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).

Published in partnership with the profession’s charity, Pharmacist Support, the workforce and wellbeing report also sheds light on other mental health and workplace challenges faced by pharmacists across all sectors. 

Some 1,188 pharmacists responded to the latest survey, which was open to pharmacists working in all settings in England, Scotland and Wales, including RPS members and non-members, between 16 October and 11 November 2023.

The majority of respondents practiced in community pharmacy (38%) and hospital pharmacy (28%) settings, with other represented pharmacy sectors including general practice (12%), academia or education bodies (5%), commissioning organisations (4%), and mental health services (3%).

The report showed findings are broadly consistent across England, Scotland and Wales, with respondents from outside of Great Britain generally more positive and reporting better mental health and wellbeing, although the survey highlights notable sector-specific issues.

The results show a worrying 88% of hospital pharmacists are at high risk of burnout. This was compared to 86% in general practice and 93% of those working in community pharmacy.

Respondents in all sectors attributed factors including inadequate staffing (69%), lack of work-life balance (52%), insufficient protected learning time (50%), absence of colleague or senior support (46%), and long working hours (42%) to the burnout risk.

In addition, 37% of respondents working in hospital pharmacy reported that their mental health had been ‘poor or very poor’ over the past 12 months, compared with 40% working in community and 30% in general practice.

Access to protected learning time also varied between pharmacy sectors. Some 83% of those working in hospital pharmacy said they were offered insufficient or no protected learning time beyond mandatory organisational training. The reported rates in community pharmacy and general practice were 93% and 61%, respectively.

The survey also exposed a trend of workplace abuse, with 41% of all pharmacists reporting verbal abuse primarily from the public, and 25% from colleagues or managers, with 7% experiencing physical abuse in the workplace.

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As a result, 62% of respondents said they had considered leaving their current role or the pharmacy profession in the past year due to the impact work or study was having on their mental health and wellbeing.

An additional 12% reported that they had already left either their role, sector or the profession for this reason. A much lower proportion of those working in general practice expressed that they were likely to consider leaving their role/sector/the profession (67%) when compared with community and hospital pharmacy (85% and 77%, respectively).

Professor Claire Anderson, RPS president, said the survey results ‘demonstrate the human cost of coping with the relentless workplace pressures that pharmacists and trainees experience daily’.

She called for ‘collaborative efforts from governments, employers and the NHS to create more supportive and fulfilling work environments’.

The RPS and Pharmacist Support are due to take the findings forwards to a roundtable with the NHS, professional bodies, trade unions, educators and regulators.

Chief executive of Pharmacist Support Danielle Hunt said the roundtable is part of an ‘ongoing commitment to supporting meaningful dialogue and action to improve the working conditions and wellbeing of pharmacy professionals’.

She added: ‘Together with our partners, we are committed to championing  initiatives that promote wellbeing and combat burnout, ensuring that pharmacists can thrive in their roles and continue to provide high-quality care to their patients.’

A previous roundtable report from the RPS and Pharmacist Support in October 2023 called for urgent action to tackle burnout across the pharmacy sector.

This followed Pharmacist Support’s annual impact report last summer, which revealed a three-fold increase in pharmacists accessing mental health support in Great Britain.

In January 2024, the chief pharmaceutical officer for England and General Pharmaceutical Council warned that pharmacy teams will experience challenging circumstances over the coming weeks and months, due to high demand, staff shortages, sickness and industrial action.

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