Record $5000 fines for abusing frontline workers, including pharmacists and pharmacy assistants, have been welcomed as the sector experiences continued mistreatment from the general public
People who cough or spit on health workers, police, pharmacists, paramedics or other public officials during the COVID-19 health crisis, now risk a $5,000 on-the-spot fine, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Police Minister David Elliott have announced.
The two said that the new measures are in response to the acts of some individuals in recent weeks, which they called “abhorrent”.
“Every day our doctors and nurses, police and paramedics put their health and safety on the line to protect us, and a threat to them, is a threat to us,” Mr Hazzard said.
“The virus has infected thousands of health workers around the world and killed many, so if you deliberately risk people’s health you will be fined and possibly imprisoned.”
The change under the Public Health Regulation 2012 has introduced a fine of $5,000 for breaching the new public health order.
President of the Pharmacy Guild of NSW, David Heffernan, thanked the Health Minister and said that the move was a decisive one which would help protect health workers.
“The majority of Australians are complying with the government’s COVID-19 response restrictions and doing the right thing, the measures are working,” he said.
“However, in recent weeks, just by doing their job, pharmacists have been abused, punched, spat on, and even had medicine bottles thrown at them by a tiny minority.
“This disgusting behaviour needs to stop. It is un-Australian. I applaud Minister Hazzard, and the state government for stepping up and taking the firmest stance yet to help protect frontline healthcare workers.
“Community pharmacists and their staff are working tirelessly around the clock to put patients and community needs first, often under stressful and difficult conditions on the frontline since the COVID-19 crisis began, and we will be here until the end.
“These welcome new measures send a clear message that frontline healthcare workers deserve to be treated with respect and that aggressive behaviour will not be tolerated,” said Mr Heffernan.
The move follows a wave of reports that pharmacists are facing a backlash from angry patients, and being threatened with, or being on the receiving end of, violence.
Last week Victorian Guild branch president Anthony Tassone also said that stock had been thrown at pharmacists, and one pharmacist had been punched in the face over tissues.
And Lake Macquarie pharmacist Kiely Hindmarch told ABC news that she had been sworn at, including being called the “c-word,” and punched in the face by customers.
“It has been nothing short of absolutely horrific,” she said.
“The abuse is actually daily, all of my staff, I’ve had girls in tears. I’ve lost staff members over it because they can’t cope with the level of abuse.”
From April 17, doctors in NSW will also be able to prescribe medicines via email or fax, sending a digital image of scripts; Mr Hazzard said that using these methods, rather than via text, will stop potential prescription forgery and criminal diversion of drugs.