Home secretary urged to help protect pharmacists

Pharmacy employers in the UK are being asked to strictly enforce a policy of zero tolerance of abuse

After a patients’ association in Australia last week called for a crackdown on people who threaten and abuse healthcare workers, the UK’s pharmacy union has called for similar measures, using the same language: zero tolerance.

Due to the rise in reported “violent and unacceptable behaviour” by patients, Pharmacists’ Defence Association has raised the issue with the Home Office and has also issued a “zero tolerance” poster for display in community pharmacies.

“Sadly, aggressive patient behaviour was already experienced before the COVID-19 crisis began and the zero tolerance of abuse measure is part of a long running campaign by the PDA to end violence in pharmacy,” PDA wrote.

“However, given the increase in incidents, the PDA is now calling on pharmacy employers to implement the Violence in Pharmacy policy and let patients know that this is their position.
“Employers have a strict legal duty to protect the health and safety of their staff at work, and while blame for any incident sits firmly with the abuser/assailant, employers nevertheless need to do all they can to prioritise the safety of their employees by seeking to prevent incidents as well as acting appropriately if they do still occur.

“In addition to calling on employers to act, the PDA has also written to Home Secretary Priti Patel calling for government support to raise the issue and take whatever measures are necessary to protect pharmacists, their teams and other patients from abuse and assault.

“The PDA believe that more awareness and support from the police and firm penalties in the courts for those who assault pharmacists is essential.”

In its letter to the Home Secretary, PDA says that during the pandemic its members report that abuse, disrespect and in some cases, violence have escalated to become an everyday experience “while they work tirelessly to protect the nation’s health”.

“Together with concerns over the availability of PPE they remain concerned for their own safety and that of their families as well as their patients.

“On Friday afternoon alone we are aware of at least one incident to which police were called after an assault on a pharmacist.

“While we have reiterated to pharmacist employers that they have a legal duty to maintain the health and safety of employees, even in times of crisis, we believe that you are in a position to assist by raising the profile of abuse of pharmacists across the criminal justice system. We ask you to make a statement urging the public to treat pharmacists and all staff with the respect and courtesy which they deserve.”

In Australia, reports of poor behaviour by pharmacy patients continue to roll in, with the Canberra Times reporting that, “One customer threatened staff with a baseball bat and another threw a tube of cream at a staff member’s head”.

Capital Chemist group business manager Andrew Topp told the Times that a patient presented in tears wearing gloves and a mask, and said, “I think I’ve got it”.

Last week the Australian Patients Association called for a zero-tolerance approach from authorities for abusive patients, and the Pharmacy Guild’s Anthony Tassone said that, “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”.

Last month PDL Professional Officer Gary West shared some strategies for managing conflict at APP2020 Online.

For immediate advice and incident support, members can call PDL on 1300 854 838 to speak with a Professional Officers. PDL is available to support its pharmacist members 24/7, Australia-wide.

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

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