COVID-19: I was punched by an angry patient in my frontline pharmacy on Good Friday

Man impatiently waiting to be served

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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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In my more than ten years practising as a pharmacist, I had never experienced anything like this before. It was something that made me question whether I really wanted to be a part of the profession: I was punched in my own community pharmacy.

On 10 April 2020 — Good Friday — we were open for three hours, between 14:00 and 17:00 — emergency opening hours mandated by the government, and a very small window in which to serve the increasingly long, socially-distanced queue forming outside the pharmacy.

At around 16:00, a patient aged in his late 60s had come to collect his medication, along with his wife’s. His prescription had been ready to collect, but the other was not due to be collected for another ten days, my colleague at the counter informed him.

He was adamant that he would collect it this instant. When my colleague refused, the patient began to shout and swear at him, demanding him to fulfil the prescription.

When I heard the raised voice, I came over to calm the situation down. Like my colleague, I explained that the medication was not due yet and that his wife was not in need of any urgent medications. Workload was high, I explained, and we had many patients waiting outside in the queue.

I keep going to work, despite waking up every morning wondering: ‘What’s going to happen today?’

I suggested that we would do our best to accommodate him, should he could come back tomorrow or after the bank holiday weekend, when we expected to have more staff and longer opening hours. With worry, I eyed the long queue of patients waiting outside.

He didn’t want to listen. He began shouting and swearing. I would not tolerate it and decided to leave him: “I do not want any argument with you. Unfortunately, I am not able to make the medication available at the moment. You will need to come back either tomorrow or on Tuesday.” I went back to the dispensary and carried on with my work.

He followed me from the counter to the dispensary door, still shouting, with a raised and clenched fist, telling me to come out.

I never expected he would punch me. I thought he may calm down if I spoke with him again: “Are you going to punch me because your wife’s medication is not ready?”

He answered me with a hit to the side of my face.

I was stunned. I could not believe what had just happened. I went back into the dispensary and sat down on a chair in trauma, pain and shock. I asked my colleague to call the police to report the incident.

I haven’t taken one day off work since then. I keep going, despite waking up every morning wondering: ‘What’s going to happen today?’ I try to keep myself busy to avoid thinking about it any further.

I am so fearful that I also find myself asking if I am in the right profession. I have a wife and two young daughters. Is it fair on them that every day I am putting my life at risk — both from this devastating disease and shocking violence from the people I work to serve?

My team and I are working around the clock to make sure our patients get their medications in good time, all while risking our health and our families’ health by being on the front line.

But there are still some things that keep me going in pharmacy: the brilliant support I’ve had from my employer, and, importantly, from the majority of my patients.

It will take a bit of time to overcome that horrible incident, but I will stick by my profession; I am not willing to give up that easily.

Krunal Vyas, pharmacist manager, Sheppey Community Hospital Pharmacy, Sheerness, Kent

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, COVID-19: I was punched by an angry patient in my frontline pharmacy on Good Friday;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20207907

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