Is community pharmacy a missed opportunity in suicide prevention?
The contribution of primary care is central to suicide and self-harm prevention strategies in the UK. Community pharmacies are a core contributor to primary care with 1.8 million people visiting a pharmacy in England each day. However, they are seldom mentioned in these strategies. Public Health England names pharmacists as “partners in effective suicide prevention” and the Scottish Government include pharmacists in their 2018 plan for mandatory suicide prevention training. However, the current training level and experience of community pharmacy staff in suicide and self-harm prevention is unknown. We therefore aimed to establish the current and potential role of community pharmacy teams in suicide and self-harm awareness and prevention, and identify any potential training requirements.
We recruited 25 community pharmacy staff who worked in the North West of England, using purposive sampling. This included pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, dispensing or counter assistants and delivery drivers. We conducted face-to-face, semi-structured qualitative interviews and identified emerging themes using inductive, latent, thematic analysis. No new codes were generated from the last three interviews, signalling that the data were saturated.
Many pharmacy staff members shared an example of their involvement in the care of someone who was suicidal or self-harming. The extent of the involvement varied and some had no examples of such interactions. No participants had received specific training on suicide or self-harm but all welcomed the suggestion of participating in training. The emerging themes of (i) Relationship with patient and ii) Pharmacy environment were seen as facilitators which, if supported by (iii) Training , could support an enhanced role by community pharmacy teams through: (iv) Opportunities for contact, (v) Facilitated referral pathway and (vi) Restricting access to means.
We report on the first UK study to investigate the role of community pharmacy teams in suicide and self-harm prevention. Community pharmacy teams have some experience in suicide and self-harm prevention, but have no formal training and rely upon referral and signposting to help people. If supported by adequate training, community pharmacy teams considered themselves to be suitable contributors to the suicide and self-harm and identified opportunities to do so. Community pharmacy teams are therefore important features in the battery of suicide prevention approaches in primary care.