The perfect storm – A PDA Regional Official’s perspective of violence in pharmacies

In our latest guest blog, PDA Regional Official for Northern Ireland, Una O'Farrell, shares her views on violence in pharmacy and what we need to do as a sector to affect change.

Thu 4th March 2021 The PDA

When I first heard of the recent increase in violence in pharmacy cases brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, forgive me, but I suspected it was overstated. I’ve been practising for over 12 years and bar one unpleasant exchange with a gentleman who looked like the odds would be against him if a strong gust of wind came along, I haven’t experienced much in the way of threatening behaviour. Maybe the legacy of our statelet has me a little desensitised to the word “violence”. However, since hearing accounts from colleagues lately, and seeing some chilling CCTV footage, I now recognise that I have just been lucky.

Reports of violence in community pharmacy since the beginning of the pandemic are on the increase. Perhaps predictable given the conditions of a perfect storm – the depths of winter, economy worries, increased pressure on the system, more fearful patients, staff struggling to adjust to changes in working practice that once seemed an impossibility, restricted GP access – patients and professionals alike are more unravelled than 12 months ago. Patience and nerves may be frayed but there is no valid excuse for violence in a pharmacy.

Of course, there is a spectrum of aggressive behaviour. Sometimes it’s attributable to the use of language not intended to be offensive but perceived as such (have you ever listened intently to RTÉ radio? You would never get away with their versions of expletives on the BBC); to expressing levels of frustration by shoving or throwing inanimate objects; to actually placing hands upon someone with the intent to injure. 

It is not new. It is something front line workers have been encountering for years. As long as we are accessible, the risk is alive and well, and we aren’t the only ones. 

Micheal Bloomfield, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Ambulance Service publicly called for support for his workers in June last year. He said, “For our staff to face…fear of assault – physical and verbal – when they are trying to provide the best possible care and treatment is disgraceful and I call on all those with influence to condemn it”. The council for nursing and midwifery have a “refusal to treat” publication. General Medical Council offers clear guidance on how to end a professional relationship with a patient when they have been aggressive, abusive or threatening.

As part of a long-running campaign to end violence in pharmacies, in 2017 the PDA produced a comprehensive document called Stopping Violence in the Pharmacy and have been actively lobbying all stakeholders for support ever since. The PDA also has extensive experience in supporting pharmacists who have become victims. The document has been embraced by the police service nationwide, but the trade union can’t fix this issue on our own.

I’m not convinced that all of our other professional bodies are fully cognisant of our fundamental right to perform our jobs free of the threat of danger though and we need them to be.

We need clear guidelines on how to set boundaries of acceptable behaviour and what to do when they are breached – I’m looking at you Pharmaceutical Society of NI. Risk management templates in the event of aggression or violence – I’m looking at you CPNI/UCA. Training modules on how to deal with challenging situations – I’m looking at you NICPLD. Support for those who have been victims of violent crime in the pharmacy, or consequential malicious referral to the society – I’m looking at you, pharmacy forum. Provision of pharmaceutical services to those who can’t be managed safely in community pharmacy settings – I’m looking at you, HSCB.

The above is quite a long wish list, but we live in hope that change is coming…

In the meantime, the PDA will continue to lead the campaign for zero tolerance in pharmacies around the UK and to support our members.

 

By Una O’Farrell, PDA Regional Official for Northern Ireland

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