The pharmacists’ trade union, PDA, has called on all pharmacy employers to immediately adopt a “zero tolerance” approach towards abuse of pharmacists supported with clear statements to patients and 100% enforcement measures that make the safety of pharmacists and their teams a clear and consistent priority.

The long running PDA campaign to end abuse and violence in pharmacies has recently gained significant prominence as incidents of abuse and violence experienced in pharmacies has increased during the COVID crisis. The campaign has now brought the issue to the attention of politicians, police forces and the general public.  ITV evening news and News at Ten on 9 April reported preliminary results of a PDA survey exposing the reality of abuse of pharmacists and their teams and the PDA are now sharing the final results after the survey finished on Easter Monday.

PDA Director, Paul Day said “We know this isn’t all patients, nor the experience of a pharmacists every single day, but one incident of abuse or one assault is one too many and suggesting such behaviour can ever be excused creates an atmosphere that puts pharmacy teams at risk of further attacks. How can any pharmacy employer think that this could be acceptable? 

The survey had more than 1,200 responses in less than a week and revealed the following key results:

  • In the past month more than 90% of respondents have seen incidents where patients/customers have behaved abusively or aggressively towards them or their colleagues.
  • More than 80% noticed that the number of abusive or aggressive incidents has increased in the past month compared to normal levels.

The survey respondents reflected the scope of PDA membership with respondents from across the UK and across the profession. A majority of respondents from each sector of pharmacy had seen abuse, but those in community pharmacy had seen it significantly more frequently than others.

The examples provided by respondents to the survey make disturbing reading generating a 40 page report detailing verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, racism, sexism and physical attacks. While the PDA believe decent employers would, and do, naturally want zero tolerance of such treatment of their employees the following two quotes suggest that some pharmacists experience what might be described as the opposite of zero tolerance:

“Same man has made multiple pharmacy members cry. Was very aggressive and threatened me. Told xxxxx [the major pharmacy employer] about him and they did absolutely nothing. In fact, they offered him vouchers as he complained that we were rude. We literally have no support from anyone especially large multiples such as xxxxx who I work for who will do nothing about it.”

“I did have a particularly nasty incident whilst working for a large multiple xxxxx . A male customer came in with an incompletely written CD prescription for a relative. It was a Sunday. I told him I couldn’t accept the prescription as it was incomplete and needed to contact the prescriber. This opened up a torrent of abuse. No support staff were nearby and there was no security and I was pregnant at the time. It made me feel very vulnerable. He told me he’d make sure I lost my job and hoped that I got cancer amongst all the f… words. I reported it to xxxxx on the Monday and they said he’d been in touch and threatened to give xxxxx bad publicity. They told me they sent him vouchers !”

Mr Day concluded: “Any degree of abuse is unacceptable but it becomes even more worrying that we are aware of several very recent incidents that have involved physical attacks after which the police have been involved.  We made sure that the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 carries greater penalties for attacking pharmacists, but our focus is on preventing attacks in the first place

Being able to abuse pharmacy staff without consequences creates no deterrent for potential aggressors.   This cannot be allowed to continue and employers need to play their part. Introducing a genuine zero tolerance approach would be welcomed by employees and locums who all have a right to go to work without fear of abuse or attack”

Last week the PDA called on the Company Chemists Association (CCA) to ask it’s members to adopt zero tolerance of abuse of pharmacists,   Read More.

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