By Danielle Hunt

The country as a whole is facing uncertain and challenging times, and for our profession emerging from the second year of the pandemic, the pressures and stresses don’t look to be easing up. It is undeniable that the wellbeing of those in our community pharmacy family has suffered and many face emotional and psychological challenges in addition to immense workplace pressure.

What do we know about the state of wellbeing within the profession? As the profession’s independent charity, it is crucial that Pharmacist Support keeps abreast of the changing needs of the profession to enable us to meet the needs of those we are here to help. To do this, each year we collaborate with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) to carry out an annual Workforce Wellbeing Survey.

The last survey carried out was in the latter part of 2021 but nothing has changed since. And the results provided stark reading. Of the 1,014 responses received, many reported living with ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ mental health and wellbeing.

The survey results highlight a continued clear need for mental health and wellbeing support. Within the survey, it was identified that there is a very clear need for independent assistance, with many saying they feel unable to talk to their employers about their mental health issues. The need for our charity has never been clearer.

In response to the results, we have focused on expanding our mental health and wellbeing support. Thanks to funding from the Covid-19 Health Support Appeal, in April 2021 the charity launched a new counselling service and expanded our Listening Friends peer support scheme. We’re especially pleased to report that 290 sessions of counselling were delivered to 67 individuals between April and December 2021.

Many of those we helped presented with trauma symptoms, arising either from their direct experience of working during the pandemic, and/ or from previous experiences of trauma which the pandemic had re-triggered.

Fig: Snapshot of findings from Pharmacist Support’s annual workforce

Other wellbeing developments have included the launch of a new Wellbeing Learning platform – facilitating individual’s access to the charity’s wellbeing workshop content – as well as the expansion and segmentation of our ACTNow wellbeing campaign. In 2021 the campaign ran at key points in the year, targeting the specific needs of each of three groups in our pharmacy family (students, trainees and pharmacists).

A total of 12,795 acts of support were provided through the website across the wellbeing campaign periods (up from 6,865 in 2020) and over 24,000 acts of wellbeing support were provided via our workshops, online wellbeing learning platform and through online wellbeing resources.

In September we plan to take our ACTNow wellbeing campaign one step further. Whilst still aiming to raise awareness of wellbeing and Pharmacist Support generally, the campaign will broaden its focus.

To tackle some of the issues highlighted through our research around workplace culture and stigma, this year the campaign will encourage a collaborative, sector wide approach to improving wellbeing.

We want to support employers and pharmacy organisations to embed wellbeing practices into the workplace and training schedule to enable this cultural shift to happen.

Diversity and inclusion

During the year we have also focused on strengthening our Board as well as honing our overall approach to diversity and inclusion. In May 2021, Pharmacist Support signed the RPS Inclusion and Wellbeing Pledge: a commitment to be inclusive, celebrate diversity, create a culture of belonging and support pharmacy teams’ health and wellbeing.

To support this commitment, we continued to work on our equality, diversity and inclusion plan and have also reviewed how we collect and analyse data to inform our service development.

In addition to ensuring that our services reflect the needs of and are accessible to all in our pharmacy family, we also focused on ensuring that the makeup and skills of our team also reflect this diversity.

During 2021, the board led a Trustee recruitment exercise, welcoming applications from across the profession, and highlighting that ‘lived’ experience was more important than previous Board or Trustee experience. We were delighted at the end of the year to welcome five new members to our Board.

Cost of living

Like many other charities, we are very conscious of the impact the continuing rise with the cost of living is having on many households. In uncertain times like this, thinking about money can be stressful and can contribute to poor mental health.

At the end of June, we joined charity colleagues at the Association for Charitable Organisations for their Support during the Squeeze campaign to showcase our sector’s work and how charities are helping people and families during the cost of living squeeze.

As part of our recent digital investment, we are also in the process of streamlining our grants process. To support people who may be struggling financially, we have launched a new online grants portal to make applying for funding quicker and easier.

The charity provides non-judgemental help and support during times of unexpected hardship. This support comes in the form of specialist debt and benefits advice, direct financial assistance through grants and also mental health support.

(Danielle Hunt is the chief executive of Pharmacist Support.)

If you want to share your stories and/or experiences with us, please send an email to [email protected]

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