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Celebrating 20 Years of Listening Friends!

Celebrating 20 years of the Listening Friends service
Listening “To give attention to someone or something in order to hear him, her, or it”
Friend “a person who you know well and who you like a lot, but who is usually not a member of your family

2016 is a special year for Pharmacist Support as not only does it commemorate the 175th anniversary of the charity, it also marks 20 years of one of its most recognised services, Listening Friends. Many pharmacists have been involved with the scheme over the years and their support has touched the lives of thousands of individuals. At this month’s bi-annual training event we shall be recognising them all. It is thanks to their commitment, both to the charity and their colleagues welfare that this scheme continues today.

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In the beginning

Twenty-one years ago, a woman by the name of Sue Sharpe had an idea, an idea to provide a Listening service for pharmacists facing a range of stressful situations. The year was 1995 and Sue was the Director of Legal Services at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). Concerned by the rising numbers of situations where pharmacists were failing to meet professional and legal obligations, not through wilful dishonesty or neglect but because they were unable to cope with demands of work, and sometimes domestic pressures, Sue set about establishing a scheme to try and do something about it.

In partnership with Alan Nathan, a council member of the RPS, Sue proposed a telephone service designed to support pharmacists in meeting their professional commitments rather than punishing them. With the help of then RPS Benevolent Fund Manager, Beverly Nicol, this threesome formalised their plans, set up training and began recruiting volunteers.

Since its launch in January 1996, the Listening Friends scheme has undergone a number of changes, and has evolved over the years to meet the ever-changing demands of the profession, but its mission remains the same. It isn’t intended to solve problems or to provide advice, but simply to enable support through listening, confidentially and without judgement. Staffed by current or retired pharmacists the listening volunteers are expertly aware of the pressures and specific demands of the life of a working pharmacist, and what it takes to become one.

Calls to the helpline cover a variety of issues, both personal and professional, and include employment issues, stress at work, discrimination and harassment, domestic and social issues, family matters such as relationship breakdown/divorce and bereavement, financial problems, illness and addiction. Where necessary the volunteer will also signpost onto other services for further assistance.

Since the charity’s relaunch in 2009 our volunteers have dealt with 2000 calls to pharmacists, pre-registration trainees and pharmacy students facing stressful situations.

Reflecting on this milestone, Sue commented:

“As a society we need to ensure support is there to help people who have problems.  When we set up the scheme we felt that for pharmacists, being able to talk to a fellow pharmacist who could understand the work pressures, the fear of and potential consequences of an error, would be beneficial.  There have been advances in recent years in dealing with a range of non-physical health issues, including use of talking therapies and a much sounder recognition of the need for good mental as well as physical health.  Workplace support is not always enough and people can be unwilling to talk to their employers.  To me, it is a really good aspect of the profession to show its care for its members.”

The Listening Friends scheme continues to be as valued today as it has ever been. It has provided a lifeline to users over the years and its success is down to the dedication of many people. Our amazing volunteers give their time anonymously so that others feel able to reach out and in some cases share sensitive information about themselves.

If you are struggling with any aspect of your personal or professional life, and are a pharmacy student, pre-registration trainee or pharmacist (or you have been on the register at any point) please give us a call now on 0808 168 5133. Our Listening Friends will be more than happy to help.

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