In a letter sent to all pharmacies last month – and seen by C+D – the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and other stakeholders, set out their “commitment to support this sector” by “enhancing the security of both pharmacy staff and premises”.
Speaking to C+D last Thursday (May 4), HSCB head of pharmacy Joe Brogan said the board was “absolutely aghast and appalled” by a recent incident at James McDonagh Pharmacy in west Belfast, which saw two pharmacists stabbed in a failed attempt to steal tramadol (read the pharmacy owner's account of the attack here).
Both verbal and physical abuse on pharmacy staff is “absolutely unacceptable”, Mr Brogan said.
However, the board’s “zero-tolerance approach” needs to be better publicised, he admitted, “to make sure that the behaviours the public [exhibit when] accessing pharmacy are appropriate, and where they are not, means are taken to deal with them”.
Background to the review
The HSCB met with NI’s chief pharmaceutical officer Mark Timoney, Community Pharmacy NI, the Ulster Chemists’ Association and the Pharmacy Forum Board last autumn to discuss how to better protect pharmacists, after a “series of incidents over the last two to three years”, Mr Brogan said.
However, “the [James McDonagh Pharmacy] incident crystallised the thinking that we really need to take action”.
“At this stage, we are trying to scope out what needs to be done,” he said. “I am engaging with the head of crime prevention in the police service of NI to develop a short survey to establish what the level of security is [in pharmacy] and where the gaps are.”
The bodies are also working with the NI Centre for Pharmacy Learning and Development to develop some training for pharmacy staff around keeping safe at work, he added.
A “baseline assessment” is expected to be completed “this side of summer”, with “material” and an “idea on how to deal with it” by the autumn.
Prescription drug misuse
Mr Brogan speculated that the rise in violent attacks on pharmacies in recent years could be linked to the rise in prescription drugs misuse in the country. "It is largely the illicit drug avenues that people are accessing prescription drugs, but they will see a pharmacy and know there are prescription drugs available."
The pharmacy bodies, the NI Department of Health and the police are keen to ensure pharmacists know “there is a solidarity...to mitigate any action like this happening again”, he added.