We had just opened the pharmacy again after lunch on a quiet Friday afternoon in August when a man walked in wielding an 8-inch kitchen knife.
I knew something was wrong was when one of my staff let out a cry of alarm. We looked over to her and saw the man in the dispensary. He was dressed in a hoodie and a long black coat, with a scarf covering the lower part of his face.
“Open the drugs cupboard! Open it now! Hurry up! No-one press any alarms!” he shouted aggressively.
There was no question of arguing with him. I remember looking at him and thinking: “Is this really happening?” I grabbed my keys and took him to the controlled drugs cabinet, opened the door and stepped back to let him help himself. One of my dispensers had followed us to the cabinet and managed to press the panic alarm while the intruder’s back was turned. My other two colleagues ran from the shop to find help at the newsagent next door.
The man took some items from the controlled drugs cabinet, then asked for our diazepam and cash from the till. And when he got it, he just walked out of the shop and ran down the street.
After he’d gone, my dispenser and I hugged each other in relief. The other two members of staff came back in. We were all very upset and traumatised. I got straight on the phone to the owner of the shop who lives nearby and he said he’d come over immediately.
In the meantime, we locked the front door and waited for the police to arrive. Some customers were still trying to get in and we asked them to wait. The owner arrived and, explaining the situation, asked people if they would leave their prescriptions and come back for them later. Most of the customers did, but one or two refused, so he dispensed their prescriptions for them.
By this time, the police had arrived and we spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the CCTV footage and making statements. After about an hour the owner had to leave. I thought we would be okay, but the police were still there and we were still upset — my partner, who job-shares with me, came in to help out. This was a blessing; there was no way I could concentrate on dealing with the police and running the dispensary at the same time.
That evening, I put a statement on the pharmacy’s Facebook page to let everyone know what had happened and that we were all safe. The response from our customers was amazing. There were so many messages of support, and people took the opportunity to tell us how much they appreciated us. The messages kept rolling in all over the weekend and they were really lovely to read.
On Saturday morning, when I first opened the pharmacy door, I saw a card from one of our customers expressing her support and best wishes.
Gradually, as word spread, we received more and more messages from customers, gifts of biscuits and homemade buns, and a lovely picture of a sparkly rainbow to cheer us up from one of our younger patients. I also had a great response from other pharmacy people online.
Everyone has dealt with the ordeal slightly differently. Some staff members were really upset straight away. For me, the experience took a few days to sink in; by the following Tuesday morning, when I was supposed to be getting on with my cleaning at home, I ended up sat on the sofa instead, crying.
We all felt jumpy during the first week after the event. We looked nervously at anyone hanging around outside the pharmacy. On a couple of occasions we have become upset, but we have supported each other with lots of hugs and cups of tea.
Things are starting to get back to normal now, and after a couple of weeks it started to feel more like business as usual. The support we’ve received has been heart-warming and has really helped us to get through this horrible experience. So if you’re one of those people who got in touch: thank you — it really made a difference.
Amanda Smith is pharmacy manager of Heath Pharmacy, Halifax, West Yorkshire