Open access article
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has made this article free to access in order to help healthcare professionals stay informed about an issue of national importance.
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A pharmacist who says he was assaulted at work on 10 April 2020 has said he is “still in shock and shaken” from the incident.
Krunal Vyas, pharmacist manager at Sheppey Community Hospital Pharmacy in Sheerness, Kent, said he was punched in the ear by a male customer who came into the pharmacy and became angry when he was told that his wife’s prescription was not yet ready.
Vyas told The Pharmaceutical Journal: “The one question my mind raises every single day is: should I keep putting my family at risk by working on the front line?”
He added that the pharmacy’s lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) compounded his fear of aggression and potential violence from customers.
“I have a wife and two young girls. Is it really fair on them that I am putting my life at risk working every day in fear, and now without having enough PPE?” he said.
“We are trying to save people’s lives, but our lives are in great danger by not having enough protection — and now with the fear that someone, somewhere may get angry and punch you. What if that someone has a knife with them?”
The alleged attack comes amid reports of increasing verbal and physical abuse towards pharmacists.
Amit Patel, chief executive officer of Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth and Croydon local pharmaceutical committees, said he had heard “multiple reports” of abusive behaviour in community pharmacies.
“It is very disheartening to know that our teams are feeling misunderstood and unsupported. This, teamed with a lack of PPE, no funding for the additional workload, or recognition of the increased costs of staffing and medicines supply, paints a grim picture.
“Morale is low and we are doing all we can to provide the pastoral care needed.”
Pharmacy bodies are campaigning for greater protection from aggressive behaviour for pharmacy teams.
Results from a survey of more than 1,200 pharmacists, conducted by the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) and published on 14 April 2020, found that more than 90% of respondents had witnessed abusive or aggressive incidents in the past month.
It also revealed that 80% of respondents thought that abusive or aggressive incidents had increased in the past month, compared to normal levels.
Paul Day, director of the PDA, said: “We’ve campaigned for zero tolerance of abuse in pharmacies for a long time, and it has got worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. The issue has developed a higher profile because of COVID-19: the frequency and seriousness of incidents seems to be going up. But even in normal times it is unacceptable, so we continue to call on employers to adopt a zero tolerance approach.”
On 26 March 2020, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society wrote to the National Police Chiefs’ Council asking for greater protection for pharmacy staff. The Society has also produced a collection of posters for display in pharmacies, asking for patience and kindness.
Robbie Turner, director of pharmacy and member experience at the RPS, said the Society has been made aware that “some pharmacies have experienced abusive or aggressive behaviour from a small minority of members of the public”.
“Such behaviour is completely unacceptable and we would encourage pharmacy staff who feel threatened or in danger to contact the police, who will treat any calls from those experiencing this type of behaviour very seriously, with a prompt response.”
Turner added that it is “important to recognise that the majority of members of the public have been kind and understanding, and I thank them for their patience and support during what is without doubt a very challenging time for pharmacy teams”.
However, in some parts of the country, there are indications that levels of aggression may be dropping.
“I think it has settled down”, said Kath Gulson, chief executive of Community Pharmacy Lancashire (CPL), which represents community pharmacies located in areas of Blackpool Borough Council, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council and Lancashire County Council.
In response to reports of abuse towards local pharmacy teams, CPL initiated a ‘Care For Your Pharmacy’ campaign calling for patience and respect.
“We can’t take all the credit [for the reduction in abusive behaviour]: I think part of it is that people are getting used to this new way of living,” Gulson added.
“The initial anxiety around getting medicines is starting to calm down; we’ve got a couple of weeks now of a ‘new normal’, before we head into the early May bank holiday.”