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Why are pharmacy teams reporting fewer crimes to the police?

The number of reported crimes in pharmacies appears to have fallen steadily since 2019 – but is all as it seems? C+D investigates

Community pharmacy teams are sadly no strangers to witnessing crimes, from petty shoplifting and vandalism to violent crimes such as burglaries or even attacks on staff.

In the past few months alone, C+D has reported news of a pharmacist being stabbed in the hand by a customer, a Surrey pharmacy’s front doors being smashed by burglars, and a pharmacy-led vaccination site that had its door glued shut by vandals.

 

Read more: Rocks, crowbars, pistols: the weapons wielded against pharmacy teams

 

But while pharmacists have anecdotally reported a rise in abusive behaviour from patients since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, new data seems to point to a dwindling number of reported crimes in pharmacies.

Data uncovered by a new C+D investigation has revealed that a total of at least 26,626 crimes took place in pharmacies across England, Wales and Northern Ireland between 2019 and 2021. Data was not supplied by police in Scotland.

Of the police forces that shared data in response to C+D’s freedom of information (FOI) requests, 27* gave year-on-year figures on how many crimes included violence against a person – and whether they resulted in injuries. This type of crime appears to have gone down steadily since 2019, with 394 such episodes reported for 2021 – down from 440 in 2020 and 458 in 2019, according to C+D’s data.

The graph below shows a year-on-year comparison of how the number of reported crimes changed over the period covered by C+D's investigation, according to data shared by the police forces that supplied data for all three years.

 

 

While at first glance, a lower number of reports over the years might suggest that fewer crimes are occurring, it is worth bearing in mind that a number of complex factors might be behind these numbers.

Not all crimes are reported to police

 

It is important to note that the data uncovered by C+D only referenced crimes reported to the police, meaning that many more unreported crimes may have taken place.

Indeed, the National Pharmacy Association’s head of pharmacy services Jasmine Shah tells C+D that “not all crimes in pharmacies are reported to the police”.

Although police “take reports of all types of retail crime very seriously, from shoplifting to attacks on workers, and always seek to prosecute anybody who breaks the law”, according to a spokesperson for the National Business Crime Centre (NBCC), some pharmacists have told C+D they are somewhat disillusioned.

 

Read more: Call the police: The areas hardest hit by crimes in pharmacies

 

Seven Hills pharmacy in Sheffield was burgled twice within just days last year, resulting in damages totalling up to £15,000.

Pharmacist Qamar Riaz claims he is still waiting to hear from the police for some kind of resolution following the two reports he made last year.

“I don’t really have any interest in knowing because I know that nothing’s going to happen,” he tells C+D.

Mr Riaz’s pharmacy team had to down tools and stop work while the police questioned everybody after the incidents, which took about an hour, he explains.

In addition, the police asked that nothing was moved in the pharmacy immediately after the incidents took place so that the forensic team could carry out their investigation. Mr Riaz says this just adds “more pressure to the pharmacy workload”.

Mr Riaz’s experience resonates with those shared by some Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) members, CEO Leyla Hannbeck tells C+D.

“A more robust police and courts response is needed – my members far too often report that the police are not interested, and the courts do not deliver the punishment appropriate for these serious crimes, so the same people repeat the same crimes, again and again in our members pharmacies,” she argues.

 

“We do encourage pharmacists to report all incidents, so that a comprehensive picture can be maintained” - Jasmine Shah, head of pharmacy services, NPA

However, police forces maintain that it is important for victims to continue to report crimes, and pharmacy teams are strongly encouraged to do so.

Sharing this information with police forces can help them create a picture of local crime trends and update their local neighbourhood and business crime plans to ensure they respond to future incidents in the best way possible.

Reporting a crime can be done online and anonymously via the charity CrimeStoppers.

 

The pandemic effect?

 

Policing sources also tell C+D that – anecdotally – fewer crimes might have occurred in 2020 and 2021 due to the different lockdowns imposed upon the public.

During this time, pharmacies were much more controlled environments, with many enforcing a maximum number of customers allowed inside at any one time, and enforcing strict social distancing measures. It was also less likely that people would visit their local pharmacy unless they absolutely needed to during the strict lockdowns.

 

Read more: Police received almost 16k reports of crime in pharmacies in just 2 years

 

Dr Hannbeck agrees that “the pandemic had an effect” on the level of reported crimes in pharmacies, “because access to the pharmacies had to be rationed to reduce transmission of the virus”.

Meanwhile, the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) maintains that “the frequency of threats of abuse and violence reached enormous levels during full lockdowns in 2020”. But many of these episodes were not reported to the police as there was “so much else going on”, director Paul Day tells C+D.

 

How can safety in pharmacies be improved?

 

The PDA recently highlighted the results of its Safer Pharmacies Survey, which “shows that more than 80% of respondents do not feel safe at work at least some of the time – a shocking statistic,” Mr Day says.

The NPA believes that contractors could adopt some “practical steps… to deter crime”, according to Ms Shah. These may include installing CCTV and “training [staff] to defuse tense encounters with customers, which could otherwise develop into potentially dangerous situations”.

“The NPA is in dialogue with the NBCC about safety precautions and we will also meet the pharmacy minister for discussions on this important matter,” Ms Shah adds.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the NBCC tells C+D that pharmacies should be in contact with “their local neighbourhood policing teams and local authorities, so that a line of communication is open to seek advice on prevention measures and discuss any difficulties or developments”.

“Assaults against pharmacists, who have been particularly pressed because of the Coronavirus pandemic, are not acceptable" - National Business Crime Centre

But although pharmacy teams can take practical steps to protect themselves from crime, it is clear that much more needs to be done to tackle the issue at its route cause.

While pharmacy teams may take some comfort from seeing the reported numbers of crimes in pharmacies fall, it is still unacceptable that police recorded more than 1,200 incidents of violent crimes in pharmacies across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2021 alone.

With workplace pressures on the rise and funding failing to keep up with the rising costs of running a pharmacy, the constant threat of crime that pharmacy teams face may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for a battle worn workforce that had reached breaking point far before the onset of the pandemic.

The findings presented in this article are the results of a wider C+D investigation into crimes in pharmacies and are the starting point of our campaign #NoExcuseForAbuse. Sign up to our newsletter and follow us on our social media channels to stay up to date with the latest findings.

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, Pharmacist Support has provided a list of resources to turn to for support.

Have you been on the receiving end of abuse or aggressive behaviour from patients? Share your experiences on the C+D Community or if you'd prefer to remain anonymous, please contact [email protected].

 

*This article is based on data made available to C+D at the time of going to press

 

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