Pharmacists are on a “knife edge”, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has been told, as a survey found almost nine out of 10 people working in the sector fear they are at risk of burning out, while almost a third are considering quitting.
Clare Morrison, the Scotland director for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, revealed the “shocking” findings from the organisation’s latest workforce survey.
She and Mr Yousaf were taking part in a fringe event on the pressures the NHS is experiencing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Morrison said 89% of pharmacists who responded to the survey described themselves “at high risk of burnout”.
She added that 68% of pharmacists said that work was negatively impacting their mental health, while 57% reported being unable to take any breaks during their working day.
Ms Morrison said: “We just think it is completely unacceptable that we have pharmacists who are being asked to work from 8 in the morning till 6 at night without so much as 15 minutes for lunch.
“It is not just a wellbeing issue for pharmacists, it is a patient safety issue as well. We can’t have people who are so tired, when they are asked to work such long periods of time without even a 15-minute break.”
She told the Health Secretary: “We have a workforce that is saying 89% of them are at high risk of burnout, so we really are on a knife edge and we need some action to be taken now.”
She described the results of the Society’s latest annual survey as “really concerning” as she spoke about the impact that staff shortages were having on pharmacists, noting that 11.6% of posts in community pharmacies are vacant, along with 7.6% in hospital and GP pharmacies.
Ms Morrison said: “There is simply a shortage of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in every part of Scotland, whether that is those who work in hospitals, in community pharmacies, in general practices.”
She said pharmacists were dealing with “long hours, a lack of work-life balance and inadequate staffing”.
She added: “I don’t think there is an easy fix for this, I think tackling workforce shortages will absolutely take a variety of different approaches. But our position is there is some immediate things that need to be done now.
“Our survey has shown that 32% of pharmacists are currently considering leaving the profession, so we really need to improve work for them so they don’t leave.
“We do that through things like rest breaks, flexible working, creating a sense of belonging within the profession, career development.”
She stressed the need to “retain the current staff by looking after them better so they don’t leave the profession”, as well as arguing that changes were needed to improve the capacity of the workforce with “better systems and processes”.
In the long term she said the overall number of pharmacists needs to increase, adding: “We will need to train people and that is going to take time.”
Mr Yousaf said the workforce issue was “critical”, telling the event the Scottish Government would publish an NHS workforce strategy “towards the end of the year, in a few weeks’ time”.
He added: “Ultimately we’ve got to make sure we are staffing our NHS to cope with the immediate pressures and the pressures of the future we can see coming down the line.
“It’s got to not just focus on the hospital side… it has got to be in the primary setting and social care, right the way through the entire system.”
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