Call for ‘zero tolerance’ of pharmacist abuse

Physical assaults escalate with one pharmacist punched in the face over tissue boxes, as patient association calls for authorities to crack down on ‘reprehensible’ behaviour

The Australian Patients Association (APA) has called for a zero-tolerance approach from authorities for people who abuse and threaten pharmacists and other healthcare workers who are already under tremendous stress in caring for patients impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

APA Chief Executive Stephen Mason said a small section of the community were putting sick patients lives at risk by hoarding basic medications and abusing pharmacy staff and nurses for simply doing their jobs to protect patients.

“In the case of pharmacists, we’ve heard reports of people getting abusive at staff because pharmacies had sensibly introduced limits in an attempt to stop customers stockpiling prescription medications and stripping their shelves of painkillers, cold and flu tablets, hand sanitiser, toilet paper and asthma medication,” Mr Mason said.

“What these people fail to realise is that hoarding of medicines or stripping pharmacy of basic health items was putting the lives of medically compromised Australians at risk.”

Anthony Tassone, Victorian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, shared shocking stories of abuse against pharmacists in recent weeks.

“Unfortunately there have been instances of physical assault on pharmacy staff that have included a pharmacist being punched in the face trying to prevent an individual hoarding boxes of tissues,” he told AJP.

“There have also been reports of individuals throwing stock at pharmacy staff, in some cases actually striking them and causing injury requiring further medical attention.”

He added that in another case, a person threw stock at a pharmacist but missed and struck another person, with patients then becoming “collateral damage”.

“These particular people need to understand that pharmacy staff on the frontline are doing their absolute very best to meet the needs of their communities and their patients. They are people too and have families to go home to,” said Mr Tassone.

This rude, abusive and aggressive behaviour is utterly unacceptable and must stop.

“The government directives to stay home unless you otherwise need to attend to essential business should give these individuals an opportunity to stay home and have a good hard think about how they’re behaving during times like this,” he said.

“There are things we don’t have control over, but what we do have control over is our behaviour towards others.”

Mr Tassone told fellow pharmacy staff that if there are concerns over a physical assault or other threatening situation, they should not hesitate to involve the police.

Meanwhile he urged any pharmacists enduring mental health concerns and stress to contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service, which he said “provides a fantastic and essential service of over-the-phone confidential support”.

“Pharmacy staff should not feel that they need to tolerate any abusive behaviour. We are turning up every day providing an essential service and doing our best for the public but we must feel safe,” he said.

APA’s Stephen Mason also highlighted that law enforcement could be called in to deal with abusive behaviour.

“We’ve got law enforcement present with the police if people get physical, even abusive. And you can’t use abusive language, it’s a form of assault,” he told AJP.

“Pharmacists and others are entitled to call the police. From what we’ve been told, we’ve also seen many instances where the public have stepped in to protect the pharmacists or staff when they’ve seen unruly behaviour. The public do come to the fore from time to time when they see inappropriate behaviour.”

Mr Mason described reports of people abusing pharmacists, paramedics, and emergency department and nursing staff as “reprehensible.”

“It’s not just pharmacy, it’s happening in emergency wards, to paramedic staff, in hospitals… There’s frustration and anger boiling over.”

Mr Mason called on people to respect pharmacist-enforced limits on medications and other goods.

“Many elderly and sick Australians rely on their local pharmacist for having a ready supply of their prescription and over-the-counter medications as and when needed. This supply has been limited in many instances and exhausted at some pharmacies due to selfish and opportunistic Australians,” he said. 

“Putting pressure on the supply of medicines and the health needs of medically compromised and elderly Australians will lead to more of these people potentially needing GP, ambulance and hospital treatment, thus clogging up the primary health system at a time when it is already under extreme pressure.

“We know these are unprecedented times. And Australians are normally known for their generosity and spirit in helping others in times of crisis. Now is the time to see how we really measure up.”

Pharmacists who are experiencing physical assault or another threatening situation should call 000

Pharmacists can call 1300 244 910 for anonymous and confidential support from a pharmacist colleague over the phone through the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS), available 8am to 11pm EST 365 days of the year.

For urgent assistance when PSS is not available, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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