By Nadeem Badshah
Pharmacists say they have suffered a rise in thefts and verbal abuse from customers as tempers boil over during lockdown.
Police patrols have been deployed to some outlets due to scuffles over queues and thieves targeting medicines.
There have been recent incidents of stock being swiped in south London, Kent, the Midlands, and Lancashire. Community Pharmacy Lancashire, which represents 369 community pharmacies in the county, launched a “care for your pharmacy” campaign in response to the incidents, calling on patients to respect staff and lockdown rules.
It comes after a recent survey conducted with the Pharmacists’ Defence Association showed 89 per cent of pharmacy workers witnessed abuse or aggression in the past month, with 38 per cent saying waiting times were the biggest cause.
Pharmacist Nader Siabi, from the North East London Pharmaceutical Committee, told our sister publication Eastern Eye: “The reasons for this is pressure for medicines. People get frustrated when they collect as they have to queue up.
“It is no more than two people allowed inside. They take it out on pharmacies.
“Drug addicts take methadone to get them off [substance abuse]. They are getting prescriptions for 14 days, that is a lot of methadone.
“We cannot get enough of it. Addicts come in and cannot get the stock.”
He added: “GPs prescriptions have also been excessive for conventional medicines.
“Surgeries are closed, patients cannot get a consultation face-to-face or on the phone, so pharmacists have to deal with abuse. It’s a system failure, we are picking up the pieces.
“A friend of mine said he normally has 17,000 prescription notes in March, this time he had 26,000.”
The National Pharmacy Association said it has heard of incidents of racist and verbal abuse, threats of throwing bricks, criminal damage and people trolling chemists on Twitter and Facebook.
Mark Lyonette, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, told Eastern Eye: “We are receiving disturbing reports from across the country of customers being aggressive towards pharmacy staff, as tensions relating to coronavirus mount.
“Pharmacists are on the NHS frontline during the coronavirus pandemic and are putting their own health at risk to serve the public.
“The behaviour of this small minority of customers is intolerable.
“Most patients and customers treat staff with courtesy, understanding that pharmacists are among the NHS heroes of this crisis.”
Other recent incidents include a burglar stealing 300 diazepam tablets after breaking into a pharmacy in Blackburn, Lancashire, in April – but then having to call the police when he got stuck inside.
Krunal Vyas, pharmacist manager at Sheppey Community Hospital Pharmacy in Kent, said he was punched in the ear by a customer who was told his wife’s prescription was not ready.
Vyas said: “The one question my mind raises every single day is: should I keep putting my family at risk by working on the front line?
“We are trying to save people’s lives, but our lives are in great danger by not having enough protection – and now with the fear that someone, somewhere may get angry and punch you. What if that someone has a knife with them?”
The PDA (Pharmacists’ Defence Association) has called for “zero tolerance needed to stop verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, racism, sexism and physical attacks” on pharmacy staff.
Lord Roy Kennedy, the Labour peer, said: “I fully support the PDA’s campaign of zero tolerance of abuse against pharmacists and their staff. During the Covid-19 crisis they are working hard to keep us safe and dispense the medicines we need.”