Work pressure a factor in Boots pharmacist’s death

Work pressure on pharmacists has been discussed in British Parliament following the death of one young member of the profession

Local member of Parliament Kevan Jones had been contacted by the family of Alison Stamps, a “young and talented” pharmacist who lost her life to suicide after finishing work on the evening of 25 May 2015.

Mr Jones used an adjournment debate to highlight the case and discuss the pressures placed upon pharmacists in the workplace.

“Alison’s achievements were remarkable and clearly she was dedicated to public health and the pharmacy profession,” he said, pointing out that she had won several awards including the prestigious Royal Pharmaceutical Society award for the best student on a Masters degree program in 2012.

However, while employed by Boots’ Tindale store in Bishop Auckland, she began to tell her parents that while she enjoyed her work, the long hours and demands placed on her were beginning to take a toll; she began to self-harm, lost weight and looked “unwell”.

Her store manager attempted to help, taking her to see her GP, but Mr Jones said that “no alarm bells rang in Boots’ central HR department that one of its pharmacists ​was in crisis situation and no action seems to have been taken. Instead, it was left to the store manager to do her best to assist Alison in her time of crisis.”

Ms Stamps’ parents told Mr Jones that they believe the long hours and workload contributed to her death.

“What struck me about this case was that it involved not a small employer but a huge multinational company, which should have had the capacity within its organisation to provide assistance,” Mr Jones said.

“I have spoken to representatives of the pharmacists’ trade union, the Pharmacy Defence Association. They made it clear that there are increasing demands on pharmacists, not only in terms of workload but as a result of staff cuts.

“Last year an article in The Guardian highlighted the situation at Boots, including many emails from Boots’ pharmacists claiming that profit was being put in the place of pharmacists’ health, and that they were increasingly being asked to hit targets for medicines use reviews—the company is paid £28 per review by the NHS—rather than concentrating on dispensing and the care of patients.

“Those pressures are putting an increasing strain on pharmacists who work for companies such as Boots, but, like Alison, many choose not to complain, because they fear that if they do so they will lose their jobs or their professional qualifications will be withdrawn.”

Mr Jones called for more mental health support and awareness in the workplace, suggesting that the British Government should explore replicating the tailored mental health support which has been made available to doctors.

Responding to Mr Jones’ speech Health Minister, Jackie Doyle-Price MP, said  that “We must learn the appropriate lessons from this case”.

“The buck stops with the employers,” she said. “It is they who must ensure ​that there is sufficient mental health support for their workers.”

Mrs Doyle-Price also stated that it was unacceptable that people were afraid to talk about mental health in case of facing a disciplinary process and potential job loss as a result.

Mark Koziol, chair of the Pharmacy Defence Association, later said that PDA is “acutely aware” of how working environment and management culture in the pharmacy sector can adversely impact the mental health and wellbeing of pharmacists.

“The circumstances surrounding the death of Alison Stamps were a significant factor in the PDA’s decision to donate £1 from the membership fee of every single member to the profession’s charity Pharmacist Support.”

In Australia, the mental health of pharmacists has also been under the spotlight, following the release in August of the National Stress and Wellbeing Survey of Pharmacists, Intern Pharmacists and Pharmacy Students.

The survey found that pharmacists in general are more stressed than the average Australian, experiencing similar levels of stress as other health professionals such as doctors.

Readers who are distressed can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910.

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