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What sector employers are doing to tackle rising violence against pharmacy staff

The CCA, AIMp and the NPA* are taking measures to ensure greater protection for pharmacists and pharmacy staff facing increased levels of violence at work, they have told C+D.

NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I) stressed in a bulletin last week (September 9) “that violence and aggression towards NHS staff is totally unacceptable” and that it will always support those facing abuse.

Following this bulletin, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) called on community pharmacy employers to make a similar, public commitment to protect their staff facing violence and abuse at work.

“During 2020, the three main community pharmacy employer representative bodies – the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), the Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) and the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) – each committed to adopt zero tolerance of violence,” the PDA said last week (September 10).

“However, the results of the PDA Safer Pharmacies survey continue to show the vast majority of pharmacists still feel physically unsafe at least some of their time at work.

“The PDA calls upon all community pharmacy employers to make clear statements to employees, patients and customers about the consequences of any act of violence on their premises.”


CCA: “Extremely concerning”


CCA – which represents the largest multiples and supermarket pharmacies – chief executive Malcolm Harrison said it is “extremely concerning” that some pharmacists have reported feeling physically unsafe at work.

“Our members closely monitor incidents so they are aware of trends and can address concerns. We are therefore aware of growing rates of violence against staff.

“While some members report that incidents have now returned to pre-pandemic levels, any incident of violent or threatening behaviour is unacceptable,” he told C+D this afternoon (September 15).

CCA members are working with the British Retail Consortium and the National Business Crime Centre to tackle the ongoing issue, and several members co-signed a letter to the Prime Minister in February calling for a new statutory offence for assaulting, threatening, or abusing a retail worker, Mr Harrison added.

“[Members] are also taking additional actions internally, including:

  • the installation of additional CCTV and use of body-worn cameras as well as prominent signage highlighting their use to deter abusive behaviour
  • the employment of additional security staff
  • the implementation of physical security enhancements
  • the use of panic buttons with a police response
  • and the issuing of warnings and exclusion letters where public behaviour is unacceptable.”

“Our members want to ensure their business are not just safe, but are desirable places to work and they encourage staff to report all incidents,” he said.


AIMp: Tougher sanctions needed


AIMp members are experiencing an increase in incidents of violence against their staff in a trend recognisable across the NHS as a whole, chief executive Leyla Hannbeck told C+D yesterday (September 14).

They, much like other NHS organisations, are upgrading their risk assessments and zero-tolerance policies and training and support for staff, Dr Hannbeck said.

She also called for tougher sanctions on offenders to further protect community pharmacy staff who “are clearly put in a position of increased risk relative to members of the general public”.

“We would strongly ask the courts to use the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 to prosecute offenders who assault our staff,” Dr Hannbeck stressed.

Pharmacy teams in England and Wales are covered by the Act, as it defines an emergency worker as including a “person employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide NHS health services, or services in the support of the provision of NHS health services, and whose general activities in doing so involve face-to-face interaction with individuals receiving the services or with other members of the public”.

“AIMp is a member of the High Street Task Force Leaders Group and reports across all sectors suggest that antisocial behaviour in communities and on high streets are on the rise, which is concerning. We will continue working with other sectors via the Task Force to raise awareness of this issue and ask the government to put prompt measures in to tackle this issue,” she added.


NPA: “No excuses”


NPA vice-chair Nick Kaye said: “There can be no excuses for violence against pharmacy staff.*

“The NPA has held discussions with senior police representatives about this matter and zero tolerance posters are available to our members," he explained to C+D on September 16.

“Independent pharmacy owners often work in person at the pharmacy premises, so incidents of aggression towards pharmacy staff feel very real and immediate to us.” 

Last year, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said it was in favour of “tougher sentences” for those who assault community pharmacy teams.

*This article was update on September 16 to include the NPA's comment


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