Professionalism under pressure

15 June 2016

A recent Guardian article has shone a spotlight on workplace pressures experienced by pharmacy professionals. 

The article focused on one company, but the Pharmacists’ Defence Association survey results themselves (reported recently in C+D) and the reactions to them have indicated professionals working in a range of different companies and settings are reporting workplace pressures.

This indicates that this is not an issue for just one company, but is a wider issue for the sector that everyone within pharmacy needs to consider and respond to.  Therefore we will not be focusing on an investigation into any one particular company, as this would not be justified by the information available. We need to consider the issues raised by the survey, by working to examine and understand pressures across the pharmacy sector that could be unduly influencing the decision making of professionals.

It is important that everyone involved works to ensure that a balance is struck which:

  • protects and promotes the health and wellbeing of patients and the public
  • empowers pharmacy professionals to work with service users to make good decisions about care and
  • enables companies to pursue legitimate business interests in an ethical way

We know that some members of the profession do not feel that this balance is being achieved. And the distress that some are experiencing is itself an issue which needs to be acknowledged.

It would be wrong to think that these issues are unique to community pharmacy, or to pharmacy generally. For health professionals working in NHS organisations, whilst commercial incentives as such may not be an issue, organisational pressures, targets and resource constraints of various kinds must sometimes be equally challenging.

The fact that these issues are complex and longstanding, and exist beyond pharmacy, does not however mean that pharmacy should not be working to address them. The survey results have been very effective in raising the profile of these issues and that is to be welcomed. We, as the regulator, and other organisations too, need to work to understand the concerns that have been raised more fully so that we can continue to work to address them.

We are taking a number of steps, including reviewing how these sorts of issues are handled in our standards, both for pharmacy professionals and pharmacy owners, so we have the right standards to enable and support safe and effective practice. We are also continuously seeking to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of our inspection process. We will be meeting with a range of stakeholders, including pharmacy owners, to hear from them how they support their professional staff to do the right thing in the first place.

We also need to work with unions, professional bodies and employers to explore how pharmacy professionals can be better supported and empowered to handle challenging situations confidently and professionally, whether that means having the right conversations with managers or even when and how to raise a concern about fraud with the relevant NHS bodies such as NHS Protect in England or NHS Counter Fraud Services in Scotland or Wales.

We are planning to hold an event in October to bring people together, from inside and outside pharmacy, to consider what role different organisations and individuals can play to address the issues raised. Recognising that these challenges are not unique to pharmacy, our event will be chaired by Professor Nairn Wilson, who has recently completed his term of office as President of the dentists’ professional association and trade union, the British Dental Association.

We recognise that these are complex challenges with no easy answers. By working together with everyone within pharmacy we hope to support and promote a culture where all pharmacy professionals feel empowered to exercise their professional judgement in the best interests of patients and the public.

Please continue to read Regulate for updates on this work and opportunities to be involved.

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