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‘Community pharmacy needs to wake up to its wellbeing disaster’

"Caring professionals being careless with their lives is by no means the correct narrative"

Community pharmacy must own the change that is required to overcome its wellbeing crisis among staff, says Ade Williams in response to the C+D Salary Survey 2020

‘Never unknowingly underpaid’ was the sort of aphorism that guided my approach in the earlier years of my career. Now, as a superintendent pharmacist who is responsible for colleagues, the saying serves as a good benchmark for my decisions in the workplace.

A few years ago, we decided to pay above the living wage of all our non-professional roles at Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol. We created a remuneration package that reflected the high value we placed on everyone’s contribution and wellbeing. Nevertheless, our noble ideals have been tested by the reality of pharmacy funding pressures and increased workload – we are walking a tightrope of deadlines while juggling other tasks.

Pharmacists are safety-conscious and risk-averse healthcare professionals, yet the C+D Salary Survey 2020 findings reflect a dangerous situation. In his book Dying for a Paycheck, Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, an American management specialist, contends that long working hours, work-related stress and work-life imbalance not only destroy people’s physical and emotional wellbeing but also adversely affect productivity and performance.

Many of us reading this will agree with Professor Pfeffer's assertions. Pharmacy professionals most likely give such advice to our patients, yet sadly many of us, myself included, find ourselves adopting working practices inimical to basic good health.

With high levels of stress, an unrealistic workload and an unhealthy work-life balance, the picture of pharmacy working life is worrying and sad. This is a sector in crisis – a wellbeing crisis. Not only are we haemorrhaging our top talents out of this pressure-cooker environment, but we are also risking the lives of colleagues being cut short.

Family and loved ones are often left to pick up the pieces. However, caring professionals being careless with their lives is by no means the correct or complete narrative. Protecting working rights, reducing financial insecurity and creating a compassionate culture throughout management, regulators and commissioners will ultimately be the only way to save lives.

Even if working life does not physically or mentally kill pharmacy professionals, the pressure cooker leaves little room for much-needed innovative practice. While compassion for our patients will never be a trade-off for improving workplace pressures, as the efforts of community pharmacy during the pandemic have reinforced, the sector cannot progress under the strain.

I admire the work of Harpreet Chana, founder of the Mental Wealth coaching academy, to help address this malaise in our profession. Sadly, she alone cannot help us. We need to collectively wake up to this unfolding disaster and own the change that is required.

We must wake up to the enormous cost of what is evidently common working practice in community pharmacy today. It will be impossible though to change working practice without a sustainable funding model. In the face of financial insecurity, management pressure only gets worse.

Independent contractors are not spared from the burdens of the workplace. The thought of not succeeding even though expectations seem unworkable is not an option when staff members are depending on you.

So we pursue the unattainable at the peril of losing all that is most precious. Walking away is just sometimes not an option. All things considered, I am even more concerned about the plight of those historically more marginalised persons in our profession.

We need a broad moral discourse about work expectations, rewards and fairness. The C+D Salary Survey could become a wellbeing survey that measures of how far salaries go to compensate for the time and wellbeing risks invested in work.

Ade Williams is superintendent pharmacist at Bedminister Pharmacy in Bristol

Read the C+D Salary Survey 2020 articles here

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