Bad behaviour will not be tolerated

angry customer patient pharmacist pharmacy

Pharmacists are coming under attack from some patients, and it has to stop, says Catherine Bronger

The COVID-19 crisis has once again seen community pharmacies rise to the occasion and go above and beyond to help patients and members of their communities.

However, unlike their efforts in recent natural disasters, pharmacists and their staff are now finding they increasingly are subject of abuse and at times violence from distraught and panicky patients.

The underlying cause is the quite bizarre trend towards stockpiling which is demonstrably unnecessary and in itself simply causes shortages.

As far as medicine shortages go, the reality is that pharmacies have been facing very short-term shortages of some medicines since last year.

But the supply chain is such that generally these shortages are quickly addressed, a fact which pharmacists and staff clearly explain to patients. Sadly, in the current situation these explanations often are falling on deaf ears.

I find myself explaining to patients that if a medicine is not in stock then it is likely to be on its way or already ordered. I and other pharmacists go out of our way to help patients source these medicines if they are needed urgently.

Every day I am hearing of incidents where pharmacists and/or their staff are being abused, and is some extreme cases physically assaulted simply for doing their job and trying to help people. One woman pharmacist had to undergo a CT scan after being punched while protecting a staff member from a customer who became irate after being told there was a limit to how many tissues they could buy. Or the incident where a patient was injured when another customer threw a product at the pharmacist, missed but split the ear open of the other patient.

In my own case I have had security remove people from my pharmacy because of their behaviour.

This behaviour will not be tolerated, and I know I speak for my fellow pharmacist colleagues when I stress that the safety and wellbeing of our staff and other patients is paramount. If people behave badly in our pharmacies they will not be served and if necessary we will call authorities to have them removed – as I have and will continue to do when necessary.

Unfortunately, this focus on the negative incidents is detracting from the great work being done by pharmacists across the country during this crisis. Like the bushfires and other disasters, we are seeing pharmacists and their staff working exceptionally long hours in trying conditions to help patients.

Pharmacists are going out in their own time and at their own expense to ensure that their
patients who are self-isolating have their medicines.

The aged care sector is particularly vulnerable and pharmacists with high proportions of
aged patients are being especially vigilant. Some face financial losses from the April price
reductions simply because they have ensured they have enough stock on hand to meet the
demands of their aged patients.

All of this has to be taken in the context that pharmacists and their staff are also dealing
with the COVID-19 crisis. We have staff getting sick. We have families self-isolating. We have
friends needing help. But through all this we as a profession are exhibiting the care and
professionalism that is needed to help us and our communities get through this crisis.

It isn’t easy and it may well get harder but if we display respect and courtesy, and recognise
the great work pharmacists are doing, we will get there.

• Catherine Bronger is a Community Pharmacist and Pharmacy Guild of Australia National

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