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A friend indeed

A sign of the difficulties facing the profession is reflected by a year-on-year increase in the number of approaches made to the enquiry service

If stress at work or at home becomes too much of a burden, pharmacists and students can turn to the profession’s charity, which has 175 years of experience to support them, writes Charles Gladwin

As a pharmacist, you will be aware of the scale of stress and insomnia among the public. Data for 2014 showed that there were over 16 million prescriptions for hypnotics and anxiolytics in England (and there were over three times as many prescriptions again for antidepressants).

However, you will also be well aware of the increasing pressures that you face in your day-to-day practice and running your business. That pressure can become too much for some, so it is fortunate that the profession has a charity that pharmacists, pharmacy students and their dependents can turn to at times of need.

This year sees Pharmacist Support celebrating 175 years of being there when support matters most. The charity traces its roots back to the occupational benevolent fund established as part of the founding aims of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain in 1841. A decade ago, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society set up an independent board of trustees to run the Benevolent Fund, which was re-launched in 2008 as the independent charity Pharmacist Support.

Its mission is “to provide effective support and information to promote a positive existence”, which it does in a number of ways, including the Listening Friends telephone support scheme. This provides an “empathetic and non-judgemental environment” for those dealing with a variety of difficult or stressful situations. Pharmacist Support also runs wellbeing workshops and supports those with financial hardships and addictions.

“Stress connects a lot of the calls and emails we receive here at Pharmacist Support – the cause of which can be work-related or personal, but also a combination of the two,” says Diane Leicester-Hallam, the charity’s chief executive. “Requests for help and support come to the charity through our enquiry service, which is available via telephone, email, online, or live chat via the website. We discuss the person’s situation and their enquiry and then provide relevant services, including Listening Friends, to them.”

Increasing demand

A sign of the difficulties facing the profession is reflected by a year-on-year increase in the number of approaches made to the enquiry service. The 814 enquiries in 2015 was an increase of over 11 per cent on 2014, and Listening Friends made 20 per cent more calls during 2015 than 2014 to pharmacists, preregistration trainees and pharmacy students dealing with stressful situations.

Many concerns are around employment, followed by financial issues, regulation and practice. Enquiries about employment and preregistration issues were both up, while those about financial issues fell in 2015. Support on offer includes information and practical advice and assistance to help with issues or with financial problems, including debt and benefits advice as well as financial assistance, and a variety of wellbeing services.

“Employment covers a range of areas, including looking for work, terms and conditions issues (including redundancy and unpaid wages), and disciplinary issues and workplace stress. For preregistration trainees, key issues are failing the registration assessment (particularly for a second time), problems with a tutor and financial problems,” says Ms Leicester-Hallam.

“Enquirers who contact Pharmacist Support are generally experiencing stress and our Listening Friends service provides support via a confidential listening ear. This can be helpful where the person feels more comfortable talking things through with someone external to their situation. As the Listening Friends volunteers are working or former pharmacists, they also understand the stresses and strains experienced by pharmacists.”

Well prepared for wellbeing

Pharmacist Support also goes out to the pharmacy community, delivering workshops at events such as local pharmacy forum meetings. The Wardley wellbeing workshops were established following a generous legacy from the widow of pharmacy owner Robert Wardley. The workshops are intended to equip attendees with information, tools and techniques to help recognise the signs and symptoms of stress and deal with everyday pressures.

Topics discussed in a workshop include:

  • The science of stress and anxiety and its effects
  • Techniques to deal with pressure, including mindfulness and time management
  • Tools like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), positive self-reflection and the five ways to wellbeing
  • Tips to inspire a more positive lifestyle.

In 2015, 250 pharmacists, 112 preregistration trainees and 255 students attended the wellbeing workshops, with more than 230 attending a one-hour wellbeing taster session. Pharmacist Support has also appointed an in-house counsellor to support users of the e-therapy programmes available through the website, and a telephone counselling service.

Workshop feedback has been very positive. “Pharmacists say they find talking to each other in a dedicated wellbeing session really valuable and that it helps them to discover new strategies and counteract the isolation that community pharmacists can feel,” says Ms Leicester-Hallam.

“The new programme is already up and running with the aim to present around 50 workshops during the year to reach the length and breadth of the country. The material is currently under revision with some exciting new developments due to go live in the late spring.”




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