Guild leader lauds ‘very brave’ pharmacy assistant

A man attacks staff at Pharmacy4Less Jesmond. Image: Supplied
A man attacks staff at Pharmacy4Less Jesmond. Image: Supplied

The Pharmacy Guild has condemned an attack on a group of pharmacy workers in NSW, saying the sector is already under duress

Pharmacy Guild NSW president David Heffernan has pleaded with the general public to be patient in pharmacies, saying that Guild members are reporting increased difficulties with angry customers.

Yesterday the AJP reported that a 17-year-old pharmacy assistant was attacked at the Pharmacy4Less Jesmond, near Newcastle, NSW, with an angry customer shouting, punching and kicking staff, and throwing bottles at them.

A 54-year-old man fronted Newcastle Local Court and pleaded guilty to charges relating to the incident. He was refused bail and his case is expected to be heard in October.

“No workplace should have to be confronted with that,” Mr Heffernan told the AJP.

“Everyone is in the same boat here in NSW, we’re all in lockdown and we plead with the public to have patience, because we’re there to help, not hinder.

“But it really does conjure anger when you see a 17-year-old girl confronting that sort of thing.

“My hat’s off to all pharmacy assistants everywhere: it happens in every pharmacy, where they’re often the first contact point for the public, and in times of duress with lockdown fatigue, they’re copping it more and more.

“I’m hearing it from the membership, especially in those locked-down areas.”

He said he hoped the public would consider that people working in pharmacies have had a difficult two years, including the 2019/20 bushfire season which ravaged areas of NSW such as the South Coast, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pharmacy owners and staff are having to deal with not just angry patients, but a range of pressures related to the pandemic, Mr Heffernan pointed out.

Yesterday Pharmacy4Less CEO Feras Karem called for greater protections for pharmacy workers from police and legislators following the incident; on Friday, Mr Heffernan echoed his words, urging greater intervention to help a sector in strife.

“Lots of people in the coastal areas were robbed of the major business calendar period of tourism [due to the fires] and now we’ve been wiped out again with lockdown and restrictions – and the Sydney outbreak is in its ninth week now,” he said.

“It’s really gruelling. There are pressures everywhere, with rent hostage situations where people aren’t getting any traction, despite the mild intervention of the state government, where they’ve ordered landlords to come to the table. They don’t, they continue to ignore people.

“From that to the absolutely wiped-out traffic flow, despite government assistance, it’s still not enough.

“The NSW Guild has been working around the clock to assist members and lend support, and we’re in constant exchanges with the Commonwealth and state governments to help better facilitate close to normal business conditions, but at the same time there’s very authoritarian and highly prescriptive and burdensome public health orders, which have rendered some pharmacies completely unable to operate.

“When you get a close contact you close down, meanwhile we’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed.”

He said that on top of all this, pharmacies are maintaining services, providing more and more COVID-19 vaccinations as the rollout ramps up in the sector, and having to manage patients who are tired of the lockdowns.

“Anecdotally, I’m getting more and more reports of a real sense that lockdown fatigue is developing,” Mr Heffernan said.

“We 100% condemn the attack [at Jesmond],” he said.

“We implore the public to maintain their dignity and respect in these trying times. We’re doing as much as we can to help – and we just have to relay public health orders when they come in.

“Again, I take my hat off to pharmacy assistants everywhere and pharmacists who are at the coalface, and under duress, and facing some abhorrent behaviour from a tiny proportion of the public.

“That video [of the attack] showed an incredibly brave girl.”

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