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Pharmacies report increase in abuse since COVID-19 outbreak

Some pharmacy staff have been verbally abused since the beginning of the pandemic
Some pharmacy staff have been verbally abused since the beginning of the pandemic

Pharmacies and pharmacy bodies have highlighted an increase in abusive and aggressive behaviour by patients since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In one case, a customer threw vitamin tablets at pharmacy staff, Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D on Wednesday (March 25).

Since the start of the pandemic, some pharmacy staff have been verbally abused when telling patients they were not able to source a certain product for them, a pharmacist working near Newcastle who wishes to remain anonymous told C+D on Wednesday.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) wrote to the National Police Chiefs Council – the representative body for police forces in the UK – yesterday (March 26), asking “for greater support and reassurance from the police to help protect pharmacy staff across the UK”.

Increasing number of reports

Earlier this week (March 23) the General Pharmaceutical Council issued a statement in which it said it was “hearing increasing numbers of reports that pharmacy staff are experiencing abuse, disorder and even violence at the hands of some of the members of the public they are trying to help”.

“This is an especially challenging time for the pharmacy profession, and we condemn any abuse,” it added.

Ms Hannbeck told C+D that she is also aware of an increasing number of episodes of abuse directed at pharmacy staff, and said the number of complaints from patients has “gone [through] the roof” lately.

Patients complain, for instance, when “they’ve been told to go and pick up the prescription from the pharmacy but there’s no prescription in the pharmacy because it hasn't arrived,” Ms Hannbeck said.

“It’s unacceptable to threaten pharmacy staff, [resulting in them being] fearful of [leaving] the pharmacy in case they are attacked. Or to be throwing things at people in the pharmacy and thinking that they can get away with it, or calling people names,” she added.

The RPS also said that “many pharmacy teams have reported an increase in abuse, violence and aggression from some members of the public”.

It said it is “disappointing” to learn that some patients are behaving in this way and that this “will not be tolerated”.

Pharmacists’ experiences

The anonymous pharmacist based near Newcastle told C+D that his staff have been “screamed [at] on  the counter for how we’ve laid our pharmacy out with regards to the 2m distancing”.

“My [staff] are […] amazing [but] they are on the edge of a cliff right now with tiredness, anxiety and the stress of it all,” the pharmacist added.

Other pharmacists shared their experiences of abusive responses from people on social media.

“Completely unacceptable”

National Pharmacy Association CEO Mark Lyonette told C+D on Wednesday: “Pharmacy teams are providing a vital service at considerable risk to themselves. We’ve already issued a public appeal to treat pharmacy teams with patience and respect during this difficult time."

Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland is also aware of episodes where pharmacy staff have been on the receiving end of abuse from a “minority of the public”, which CPNI CEO Gerard Greene said is “completely unacceptable”.

“My message to the public is to please be patient and sensible when it comes to medicines,” he told C+D yesterday.

Positive episodes

However, patients have also shown kindness and appreciation towards pharmacy staff, Ms Hannbeck said.

"A lot of the patients are extremely understanding, helpful and lovely. They bring chocolates to the pharmacy, they bring cakes,” she said.

Examples of gratitude shared on social media include hand-written messages and face mask donations to pharmacies.

Have patients verbally or physically abused you since the outbreak of COVID-19?

Independant t Thinking Pharmacist , Locum pharmacist

A lot of of patients have been very appreciative and understanding. It's only a minority that cause the issues , however psychologically they're the ones that have the greatest effect. 

it almost reminds of my early days in pharmacy when some patients felt they had a right to be aggressive or abusive as they were unwell.




Trevor Pearson, Pharmacy Asistant/ Medicine Counter Assistant

Sometimes you have to laugh. Both the Pharmacy's in my small North Yorkshire town received a torrent of abuse, over the phone, when we both refused to deliver "life saving drugs" to the daughters elderly mother at a local care home. The drugs........ 2 tubes of Steradant!

Farhat Ahmed, Locum pharmacist

In my pharmacy our first experience of COVID related abuse came after Jhoots hit the news with the painkiller price increase, all tarred with the same brush etc.
Generally patients have been very understanding. However I did get this comment from a lady who was told that she would not be getting her medicine in a medipak because she did not need it dispensed (I inherited this medipak a while back) "I don't understand why you don't have time to put my medicines into a medipak because the doctors have all closed their doors so you shouldn't have anything to do"
It is particularly difficult to imagine how stupid people are.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

And what I believe you've described there is fundamental in assessing what the problem is. Patients don't know what we do in pharmacy. For some I imagine we take their piece of paper, and come back a few minutes later with a bag of stuff. Do they know the clinical check that happens? The dispensing process? The accuracy checking?

No, of course not. And I see that as a personal failure. We have failed to inform and educate patients on how a pharmacy works. Perhaps when this is all over, I'll spend some time creating resources and teaching patients how a pharmacy works?

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

The three types that are currently a problem:

1) the stupid

2) the uncivil

3) the stupid and uncivil

You can somewhat mitigate stupidity by assuming it in the design of your covid response.

The incivility should be dealt with through a zero tolerance approach.

This current situation has created a set of circumstances which might be the only time in your career when your authority will not be abrogated by those above.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Been taking a zero-tolerance approach. Anyone being uncivil with me or my staff gets awarded with the opportunity to queue from the back of the line. Several people have already won so far. I suspect more with follow!

ABC DEF, Primary care pharmacist

Just quit the crap sector. It was bad enough before this and has gone way worse recently. Why bother helping those ungrateful people at the cost of risking being assaulted or even worse, infected at work? And at this salary? It's obviously not worth it.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I think community pharmacy needs a total overhaul.

On Break, Community pharmacist

It's completely unacceptable for this abusive behaviour and positive to hear companies supporting their frontline hard working staff as sky news reported Lloyd's taking action after patients abusing staff . I am fortunate that I have not experienced this extreme during the pandemic and in Newhaven (Sussex) the community have been very patient and understanding about the delays at the moment. 

I have used local Facebook pages to explain what is happening with the pharmacies for example if one changes hours or services move to another site due to staff shortages. This won't stop the extremes of patient behaviour but helps most understand what's going on. 

Leon The Apothecary, Student

It is important to clamp down on abusive behaviour. Name and shame and show that it will not be tolerated. The majority of people will support and respect that in my opinion.

cardiff pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

 I had to hire BIG security guards this week..verbal abuse, threatening behaviour..patients fighting in the queue    all beacuse patients had to wait.. Covid was not an acceptable reason for the dealy!

fab fabioso, Locum pharmacist

Security guards, one of the few sectors of the economy showing strong job growth currently. Did you specify BIG in the criteria for the job, or did you just get lucky?.

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

A friend of mine has similar tales of customer 'lack of appreciation'. However, I am concerned the next couple of weeks may bring an incident of assault. Community pharmacy is drowning in demand.

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

 'I am concerned the next couple of weeks may bring an incident of assault'

Hopefully this wont happen. If it happens to me (which I will do eveything possible to avoid), I will happily use my lawful right to defend myself.

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

Abuse has always been there. Glad I'm away from the customers.

Jenny Etches, Community pharmacist

This is just an exaggeration of some patients normal behaviour I'm afraid. Staff working for multiples are scared to face up to such behaviour because head office ALWAYS backs the patient whatever. They've somewhat shifted on that position. Do you know what? The customer is actually rarely right. We're professionals and shouldn't have to take this shit. 

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Best advice I can give to many people is to Unionise.

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

'Do you know what? The customer is actually rarely right'

After 20 years of working in community pharmacy, this has been exactly my experience

C A, Community pharmacist

The customer also rarely realises... they aren't a customer - they aren't directly paying for the service, they haven't written the service specs, the law affecting how Pharmacy is run isn't the same as the laws they encounter day to day.

Joan Richardson, Locum pharmacist

This is the norm - welcome to community pharmacy.

ABC DEF, Primary care pharmacist

True, that's why quitting is the best answer to this.

Tony Donnelly, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

We have certainly seen the best and the worst as I'm sure other frontline services have, government needs to send out a strong message that such behaviour will be robustly dealt with.

O J, Community pharmacist

The government just sent a strong message about Covid19.

" Tests will be rolled out to critical care doctors and nurses first followed by staff in emergency departments, paramedics and GPs."

Nothing for community pharmacy team. Frontline care staff are we?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Pharmacy staff does not have to directly exam or diagnose a patient, you can pretty much conduct your entire business and never stand anywhere near a patient. It is right that these professions are given priority. 

V K P, Community pharmacist

the GPs are hiding behind closed doors and only making phone call consultations whilst signposting everyone to the pharmacy. so what direct examination are they carrying out over the phones to even be considered remotely at risk or even exposed to covid to deserve any tests as a priority??? please elaborate


O J, Community pharmacist

On other note, if you are an employee than it is the employers responsibility that they provide you with the appropriate gear. No matter what, community pharmacy is still classed as private sector. Hence forth, employer can be liable and not the NHS if one of its employees gets infected with chrono at work (though hard to prove). Will some one shed more light on this?
Employers should do more to protect their staff and not leave it for NHS to deal with. I am sure multibillion pound companies can afford to purchase the right kit it for their staff if they are really worried about them.

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

The government now has control over all of the high quality PPE. Private companies will find it impossible to source high quality kit because the government has control over the supply chains.

The government have annouced they will supply pharmacy once hospitals are fully stocked.

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Nobody said they shouldn't be given priority. The question was why we weren't even mentioned.

I can have hundreds of patients pass through my doors in small area that is essentially a confined virus chamber. I have no PPE, I have had to construct a DIY barrier and create my own signage. I have had zero logistical, financial or advisory support from anybody. Many patients have ignored everything and lean over the counter. Many just approach you without thought. Many cough and splutter without care. The staff are so busy they cannot begin to fully control the numbers entering the shop.

Many of the people accessing paracetamol / cough medicines will be treating themselves or somebody in their household with you've guessed it - a fever / cough.

Try letting those points sink into your brain and you might begin to appreciate the perfectly valid question being posed. Your response is one of the most stupid I have ever read on here. 


Z Rafiq, Community pharmacist

To be fair most patients have been fair and understanding, unfortunately the minority have been abusive, threatening and one comedian even offered to tear the shop down ( he calmed down when the police arrived). All in all everyday is like Easter and Christmas rolled in one and served with side of Groundhog Day. 

Seal Patel, Community pharmacist

Over the past week or so I have worked in Leicester, Nottingham and Skegness areas. Each day the the abuse, comments and attitude of patients has got worse and worse.


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