Pharmacies should be places that improve health, but for those who work in them, the opposite is often true.

The percentage of pharmacists reporting that they are stressed is on the rise, increasing from 68% in 2016 to 74% in 2018, according to a C+D survey.

What can be done to halt the rise in stressed-out pharmacists, and what is the likely impact on patient safety?


Overworked and under pressure

The C+D survey revealed that increased workloads and reduced funding are a toxic mix for pharmacists. Practitioners reported stress-related problems including insomnia (43%), depression (27%), excessive drinking (11%) and suicidal thoughts (6%).

Comments from pharmacists included: “I have to multitask to the point of it being unsafe” and “Shifts in poorly-managed branches are hell to deal with. Redundant pharmacy software, misfiled scripts, poor communication, overworked and stressed staff… and over-exploited, yet underutilised, pharmacists.”

Pharmacists said they had experienced serious stress-related medical conditions such as heart problems, worsening diabetes and depression as a result of the stress.


Stressed pharmacists risk patient safety

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if pharmacists are feeling the strain at work, they will be more prone to making pharmaceutical errors. While occasional bouts of stress can help us rise to meet challenges, long-term chronic stress has the opposite effect.

According to the Stress Management Society, prolonged stress can cause loss of concentration, demotivation, difficulty in making decisions, irritability and feelings of being overwhelmed. Hardly desirable characteristics for a pharmacist.

pharmacist stress

What can be done to combat pharmacist stress?

There are a number of ways people are working to address the problem of pharmacist stress.


  • A confidential advice service

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has proposed that pharmacists should be able to access a mental health service akin to the GP Health Service, which helps struggling doctors with mental health problems, stress or depression.

The confidential service helps overcome major barriers to healthcare professionals seeking help – the fear that managers and colleagues will find out about their problems.

In 2017 alone, calls to support charity Pharmacist Support’s helpline rose 39%, suggesting strong demand for this service in the profession.


  • Changing the fitness-to-practice process

The General Pharmaceutical Council is reviewing whether its procedures could be adjusted to reduce stress on pharmacists. A comprehensive review of processes launched in April 2019 will seek to identify ‘unintended impact’ that could have a detrimental effect on pharmacists’ mental health.


  • Collective bargaining and unionisation

Some pharmacists see joining a union as a solution to difficult working conditions. The Pharmacists’ Defence Association is seeking to increase its network of members, seeking to change employer terms and conditions in pharmacies.


Is technology a key part of reducing pharmacist stress?

Pharmapod’s platform provides a way to record medication-related events in practice, providing valuable insights into where, how and why events are taking place within a pharmacy.

The transparency provided by Pharmapod means that errors caused by pharmacist stress cannot be overlooked. Rather than wait for an adverse event to occur, problems can be spotted and appropriate action taken to reduce risk and prevent patient harm.

Is it time your pharmacy adopted a safer way of working, for both patients and pharmacists?

Talk to the team today to find out how we could help your business.

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