‘He turned on her, just turned on her.’


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

The CEO of one pharmacy group has implored police to respond more quickly to calls for help, after a man attacked a 17-year-old pharmacy worker

Feras Karem, CEO of the Pharmacy4Less group, has told AJP how a man lashed out at workers at Pharmacy4Less Jesmond, near Newcastle in NSW, verbally and physically assaulting them.

“The situation is a sad one,” said Mr Karem. “On Friday, he turned up at a pharmacy to get his vaccination, and he needed help filling out the form to be vaccinated.

“When you go to get vaccinated, there’s a standard form to fill in or complete, and it’s got a number of questions – the same questions get asked more than once. It’s repetitive.”

The 54-year-old man asked for help with the form, and the 17-year-old pharmacy assistant started to assist him.

“She’s asking the questions, and he turned on her, just turned on her,” Mr Karem said.

“He started hurling expletives and swearing at her, screaming at the top of his voice.

“When he turned on her like that, a few of the team came to her help and said, ‘Listen mate, just go, don’t stay, get out of the pharmacy’.

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

“They get him to the front door and that’s where you see, in the CCTV footage, him coming back in the door. He gets in her face, hurling swear words, punching and kicking.”

CCTV footage shown to the AJP shows the man lunging and screaming at the pharmacy workers, punching and slapping them, and lashing out with a plastic bag which contained bottles.

He also kicked staff, threw bottles at them, knocked over a hand sanitation stand and attempted to grab at merchandise, before bystanders and staff were able to close the pharmacy door, leaving him outside.

Staff are then seen comforting each other on the CCTV.

“So we have physical abuse, we have verbal abuse, we have property damage, and to add insult to injury the police were called and it took them a long time to arrive,” Mr Karem said.

Mr Karem noted that this is the third major abuse incident at the group’s stores in 2020-21.

In October last year the AJP spoke to Ahmed Ouf, owner at the Pharmacy4Less Auburn, Sydney store, who was attacked by a man who smashed a Perspex safety screen into his face.

Earlier this year a man was jailed after beating a pharmacist, bashing him 19 times around the head and face after the pharmacist declined to dispense a forged script.

“We seem to be at the centre of it – this is why when Jesmond called, my blood was boiling,” Mr Karem said.

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

“We’ve had a few incidents, and look at who’s the victims in this case. This 54-year-old guy has no right to go around punching people.”

He said he was concerned at the police response time, and the fact that the man had not been arrested until after the mainstream media picked up the story on Wednesday, when the attack happened Friday.

“Today he faced court, and he pleaded guilty to charges of affray and breach of the public health orders,” Mr Karem told the AJP. “He was refused bail, and he’ll stay locked up until at least October 7, when he’ll be sentenced.

“From my point of view that’s a great result: we needed a response to say one, that’s not okay; and two, if you’re thinking of doing this [attacking frontline workers], then these are the consequences you can expect.

“But my biggest worry was that the police took so long to respond, and in that time the guy was walking the streets.”

He said he wanted police to understand that, “We are in a vulnerable position: if we call you, we need you to come. We need your help.”

With pharmacists and pharmacy assistants on the front line, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, workers need protection, he said: in the form of PPE, and in the way physical and verbal abuse is responded to, as well as in regulations to help prevent it.

“If we are victims, we need to be able to pick up the phone and expect the police to show up quickly,” Mr Karem said.

“We can’t be waiting an hour while a perpetrator gets in his car and goes away – or stays, and does more damage. It’s too long.”

He urged the general public, police and decision-makers to understand that pharmacies are providing services such as COVID-19 vaccination as a community service, and are not making a profit for doing so – and that pharmacy workers are under significant stress throughout the pandemic.

“The doctors are getting paid double what we are – we’re running at a loss, doing it because we feel a sense of obligation to our communities.

“We’ve had pharmacies in our group where we’ve had positive cases in the pharmacy, and that’s resulted in closure of the business, deep cleaning, loss of trade, the emotional impact on the team who have to isolate – it’s almost like this cascade of issues that come from it.”

But stress due to COVID-19 is no excuse to attack pharmacy workers.

“One guy said to me, ‘Was he drunk or something?’ I said, ‘To be honest with you, I don’t care if he was drunk, or under the influence of drugs – it’s beside the point.

“The point is that a 54-year-old male assaulted a 17-year-old girl.

“I’m just sorry that she had to face that.

“There’s got to be a big thankyou put out to pharmacists and pharmacy assistants at this time. They’re on the coalface every day, they risk getting COVID by going to work, and you know, sometimes people forget it’s a thankless job.

“But community pharmacy keeps doing the hard yards.”

Pharmacists can contact the Pharmacists Support Service on 1300 244 910 for peer support  related to the demands of being a pharmacist in Australia.

Lifeline is available on 13 11 14.

Members can call PDL on 1300 854 838 for support from a Professional Officer.

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4 Comments

  1. Adam Fraser
    26/08/2021

    This is terrible I hope all your staff are okay. Abuse should not be tolerated.

  2. Jason Meiers
    26/08/2021

    Physical and verbal abuse are tolerated way too much in this industry. Everyone loves to pay lip service to the phenomenon, but thats about all. I do hope the CEO of the group at least ensures his staff is adequately financially recompensed for all the extra trauma they are being exposed to. I hope the pay differential between the upper echelon of the group and those at the “coal face” isn’t too excessive.

  3. Maria Tsagiannis
    03/09/2021

    Those staff workers are rude and outright savage the way they treat you. This man had no idea and needed empathy and service and made to feel he couldn’t and had no rights..this is wrong of the staff and the pharmacy that employs them..I know this pharmacy and they come very short of service..I hope this man gets over this dilemma and is safe

    When your patience runs thin with the world of people that don’t know human is humane and we have a right to it…WHERE DO YOU GO????…

    HUH

    Where do you go??? Hey???

    Jail???
    I DONT THINK SO
    I DON’T THINK SO
    I Don’t think so
    I don’t think so

    So??..

    Free
    free
    FREE IS where you GO…and a apology for the trauma he had to subject himself

    THATS WHERE
    Free this man

    Rest assured God decides and his will is to be done in all. God created all. All answer to God firstly and lastly..all will and does in gods’ own time
    Law not even in high supreme court can break this law or corrupt it even if they try. Craig Thommo Thompson I remind you the good heart you truly are and always have been even lucky to be born good. I love you my most best friend for 25years 💗

    the truth I see and know is that although the staff are friendly and ready to serve you to the till are seriously lacking in customer service when empathy compassion to the sick frail and aged and in most cases to the mentally ill with any issues non accommodating with rudeness and are shown to the door and without information to be cared for and catered to. Not a pharmacy delivering to special needs by the very law they practice by. I recommend customer service including role play to them.

    This man should be set free

    God bless

    • Maria Tsagiannis
      17/09/2021

      One day at a time, I take…nearby but to growth..of myself…and double check behind my own closures..for a better future and a better overall a better wellness of being..a fresh and healthy lifestyle change to be doing good for real is a independence inspirational…I thank you all before myself as that would thank me…humbled for better!
      #better #betterlife #life #lifestyle #life #lifeisgood #lifeisbeautiful #lifelessons #lifecoach #liveyourbestlife ….mt

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