UK pharmacists facing abuse and violence during lockdown | World news
Frontline workers in pharmacists are being subjected to a wave of abuse ranging from violent attacks to verbal intimidation such as being told: “I hope you get coronavirus.”
Police patrols have been deployed to some outlets as deterrents amid mounting day-to-day tensions, scuffles in queues outside premises, which are limiting the number of entrants, and incidents including the theft of one Midlands’ pharmacy’s stock by masked raiders.
“We’re doing our best, the NHS is doing its best and this type of behaviour is totally unacceptable,” said Claude Pereira, a pharmacist in Stratford where police were called after a customer smashed a glass door and threatened to kill staff.
The abuse – which three-quarters of pharmacies say has risen since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic – comes on top of other pressures on pharmacists, who have stepped into the face-to-face breach left by the closure of GP surgeries now assessing patients by telephone.
One is the concern around the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), which is already in short supply to NHS workers.
“We’re trying to get pharmacists on the government’s list of those who need PPE,” said Leyla Hannbeck, the chief executive officer of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, which represents more than 2,000 independent pharmacies around the UK.
“We’ve seen a real drop in capacity and shortage of staff as the crisis has gone on and our members are eager to stay open. We are very clear with regards to the government’s advice on safeguarding, but there are still some owners who may be older who feel that they need to continue working.”
Pharmacists have also suffered in other ways from falling outside the provisions offered to NHS staff when it comes to the challenge of buying food. Some were denied access to special shopping hours at supermarkets because they did not have an NHS card, according to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), the sector’s body.
It has written to the British Retail Consortium to raise concerns about the approach taken by some supermarket chains, and called on companies including Tesco and Sainsbury’s to ensure that pharmacists are given access.
The increasing abuse has also been raised by the RPS with the National Police Chief’s Council, which has advised pharmacies to report incidents so that forces can build up a picture of the problem and respond to it.
One told of “verbal abuse, emotional blackmail, failure to observe social distancing, queue-jumping [and] generally selfish behaviour”, while another spoke of “huge amounts” of verbal abuse” over the phone, adding: “Staff have been told: ‘I hope you get the virus’ or ‘I hope you die from coronavirus’ multiple times per day … Most of the abuse is from the over-60s.”
Nicola Goodberry, a pharmacist in Doncaster, said aggressive behaviour by some customers had increased after the government introduced social distancing measures last month.
“After the advice came in, we had to limit the number of people coming in at one time, and that has led to grief. Unfortunately, we are seeing some people behave in a very out-of-character way when they have experienced delays, in some cases swearing and even throwing boxes of tablets at staff.”
While some pharmacies have been erecting perspex glass screens at their own expense, Goodberry said this was not always possible and that the layout in her premises would not allow for this.
Staff in major high-street chains too have experienced the wrath of stressed customers. Boots, which is running a campaign called #prescribekindness aimed at encouraging kind behaviour, has meanwhile distributed 2,500 Perspex screens for its counters – one per store – ordered 20,000 mobile lightweight versions and supplied all stores with PPE equipment including gloves, face masks, visors and aprons.
A manager of Boots in Cardiff praised his staff on a LinkedIn post, but added: “The abuse they’ve endured on a daily basis since the outbreak of this virus is unfathomable.
“For people to think they have the right to behave in the way they have is completely unbelievable. All I have seen on social media is people criticising pharmacists for keeping them waiting, making them queue, being out of stock of Calpol, I could go on. I have been called names, spat at, had to listen to my team as they tell me about the abuse they have endured. It breaks me.”