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Blog: professionalism under pressure

15 June 2016

Many of you will have read recent articles in the Guardian and pharmacy media about pressures experienced by pharmacy professionals working in community pharmacies.

We recognise that pharmacy professionals working in a wide variety of roles and settings will experience significant challenges in trying to provide high quality care to patients and the public while dealing with limited resources or other pressures.

Indeed, we never seem to hear of healthcare professionals working in fully optimal circumstances without resource constraints of one kind or another. Some of the challenges facing professionals in NHS organisations, including financial pressures and targets, were recently highlighted again in the latest Nuffield Trust’s Health Leaders Survey, published last week, which warned of poor morale among staff and looming shortages in key areas within the NHS in England.

Pharmacy professionals working in community pharmacy face different pressures as the businesses in which they work seek to generate income and manage their costs. This reality highlights one of the reasons why society looks to professionals to act professionally, counting on them to put patients’ interests above the interests of others (including professionals themselves and their employers). This can be very hard and easy answers are thin on the ground. If these situations were easy we wouldn’t need professionals to handle them.

It’s also true that a range of other people have a part to play. Employing organisations have a responsibility to provide a working environment in which professionals can behave professionally. This requirement is clearly set out in our Standards for registered pharmacies. We as the regulator have a responsibility to set standards for pharmacy professionals and registered pharmacies that promote safe and effective care for patients and the public. And we use our inspection powers to assess how well pharmacy owners are achieving the standards for registered pharmacies. A great deal of the information which informs these assessments comes from responsible pharmacists themselves, and other individual team members. And there are roles for other key organisations and groups too, including educators and professional bodies in providing support to help make sure professionals (including superintendents and responsible pharmacists) are both competent and confident to challenge management where needed, and to raise concerns where their challenge is not heard or acted upon.

We have recently reviewed the survey results shared with us by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association, which had asked its members about pressures they face in the workplace. The survey and accompanying anonymous case studies highlight a number of issues which we and others need to understand better. A wide range of views and comments have also followed, which we also need to get to the bottom of. This is why we are arranging a seminar in October, to be chaired by Professor Nairn Wilson, a distinguished professional leader from outside pharmacy. We want to create an opportunity for all of us – regulators, the NHS, companies, professionals and representative bodies to consider these complex and challenging issues in depth, to inform the work we have to do individually and collectively. Read more on professionalism under pressure.