Crimes in pharmacies: How pharmacy teams are currently supported in the 4 UK countries
As a C+D investigation reveals the extent and severity of crimes – including violence – that pharmacists and their staff are facing across the UK, we asked the four governments what measures are in place to protect pharmacy teams
Last month, C+D began to reveal the level and severity of crime that pharmacy teams across England, Northern Ireland and Wales are subjected to, as part of its investigation in crimes in pharmacies.
According to the data shared by 35 police forces for 2019 and 2020 and 33 authorities for 2021, a total of 27,385 reports of crimes in pharmacies were received over the three-year period.
These crimes ranged from shoplifting and burglary to vandalism and arson.
Catch up with the key findings from the investigation by reading this short briefing document.
But perhaps most worryingly, in each of the UK countries that C+D was able to obtain police data for, the proportion of violent crimes – which includes violence against a person, public order offences, arson and criminal damage – seemingly increased over the three years.
In 2021 alone, violent crimes accounted for 13.4% of all crimes in pharmacies reported in Northern Ireland, 18.1% of all crimes in pharmacies reported in England and a staggering 20.5% of all crimes in pharmacies reported in Wales.
And these are just the cases that made it to official police reports. Hundreds, if not thousands, of other incidents could be going unreported.
With these figures in mind, C+D asked the health departments of each of the four UK countries to share what policies and measures are currently in place to better protect community pharmacy teams.
Wales: “We’re doing everything we can to eradicate assaults on staff”
A total of 495 crimes in pharmacies were reported to the four police authorities across Wales – Dyfed-Powys Police, Gwent Police, North Wales Police and South Wales Police – in 2019. This rose to 857 a year later.
Dyfed-Powys Police did not provide data for 2021, but a total of 322 incidents were reported across the three other authorities.
Despite the seemingly dwindling number of reports, violent crimes accounted for 20.5% of all crimes in pharmacies reported to police forces in Wales in 2021.
Police forces in Wales noted several incidents whereby a “blunt instrument” or a “non-bladed article” were wielded against pharmacy teams.
A spokesperson for the Welsh government told C+D that it “deplores all violence against healthcare professionals and any form of attack is completely unacceptable”.
“We know that the overwhelming majority of people value and respect the vital role community pharmacies play in Wales,” they continued.
“The number of incidents of violent crime against pharmacies and individuals working in pharmacies remain low and we are doing everything we can to work with employers and our partner agencies to eradicate physical or verbal assaults on staff,” it added.
Community Pharmacy Wales (CPW) said it echoed the government’s statement and encouraged all contractors to report any incidents to both the police and their local health board.
England: Work is ongoing to mitigate against the risk of violence
For England, the police data suggests that while the overall number of incidents of crimes in pharmacies has decreased over the three-year period, reports of violent crimes rose to 1,319 in 2021 and accounted for a higher proportion of the total number of crimes reported.
Violent crimes accounted for 18.1% of all reports of crimes in pharmacies received in 2021, according to the 29 police forces in England that provided data to C+D.
When C+D put this data to the Department of Health and Social Care (DH), a spokesperson said: “We have zero tolerance for violence or abuse directed at healthcare staff like community pharmacists.
“Everyone deserves to work in a safe and secure environment, free from fear of assault or harassment.”
The DH pointed to NHS England and NHS Improvement’s (NHSE&I) 'violence reduction programme', which aims to protect the NHS workforce against deliberate violence and aggression from patients, their families and the public, and to ensure offenders are punished quickly and effectively.
Under the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, the maximum prison sentence for a common assault is doubled from six months to one year if the victim is an NHS worker.
And in 2020, the ‘Joint Agreement on Offences against Emergency Workers’ was published to ensure more effective investigation and prosecution of cases where staff are the victim of assault – verbal or physical – and sets out the standards victims of these crimes can expect.
A spokesperson for NHSE&I added: “Everyone has the right to be safe at work, and we want to reiterate in the strongest possible terms that violence and aggression towards NHS staff is totally unacceptable.
“We are working with partner organisations to develop practical support for primary care employers and employees, and staff can also access help via our national health and wellbeing offer.”
NHSE&I said work is ongoing to support primary care providers – including community pharmacies – to mitigate against the risk of violence and abuse and pointed to its ‘Treat us with respect’ resources.
Parity of funding with GPs?
When asked by C+D whether there is scope for community pharmacies to have parity of funding, NHSE&I did not respond.
In its response, the DH added that community pharmacy services are private businesses that are responsible for setting their own policies and procedures to keep staff safe.
Northern Ireland: Pharmacies have access to a dedicated fund to improve their security measures
Pharmacies in Northern Ireland were proportionately among the hardest hit by crime over the three years covered by C+D’s investigation.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland registered 1,505 reports of crimes that took place in pharmacies in 2019-21, with 129 of those being violent crimes.
The extent of violence against pharmacy teams in the country is worrying, with the Police Service of Northern Ireland reporting incidents involving firearms and handguns at some point during the three-year period, and health minister Robin Swann having to step in to condemn violence after a pharmacist was stabbed in the hand during an aggravated burglary in north Belfast earlier this year.
But the country’s response to the levels of violence against pharmacy teams is perhaps the most progressive, with dedicated funding attached to improving the level of protection for the sector.
Commenting on C+D’s data, Joe Brogan, head of pharmacy and medicines management at Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), said: “Any increase in violent attacks on staff is a significant concern.
“It is unacceptable that a community pharmacist, providing an important service to their local community is subjected to abuse or violent attack.”
Northern Ireland is no stranger to having to tackle violence and abuse towards pharmacy teams.
A "zero tolerance" campaign was launched in 2017 in response to a spate of violent attacks and abusive behaviour towards community pharmacy staff in Northern Ireland.
And since 2018, the HSCB has been investing £1 million a year to support community pharmacies improve their security measures, HSCB explained.
Under the investment, pharmacies can spend up to £4,000 each on security improvements by submitting receipted invoices.
Eligible categories of expenditure include: ‘external environment’, for example walls, gates and security lights; ‘building security’, such as locks and security grilles; alarms; and ‘robbery prevention’ measures, such as cash safes.
HSCB told C+D that it works closely with Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland to monitor and improve the security situation for community pharmacies in the country.
Scotland: “Our teams have been facing an unacceptable level of negative behaviour”
Police Scotland did not provide data to C+D for its investigation, claiming that extracting the relevant data and information about crime in pharmacies “would cost well in excess" of the current cost threshold of freedom of information (FOI) requests to police authorities.
Last year, the Scottish Government launched a ‘Healthcare Worker Respect Campaign’ to tackle increased levels of violent and abusive behaviour towards health and social care staff.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government told C+D: “Pharmacists or druggists are currently protected by a wide range of existing criminal laws. The Protection of Workers Act 2021, which came into force on August 24, 2021 also creates a statutory offence of threatening, abusing or assaulting a retail worker, adding to the offences that can already be used to prosecute those who abuse retail workers, which includes pharmacists or druggists.
“The Scottish Government fully supports law enforcement agencies having extensive powers to deal with attacks and threats made against retail workers,” they added.
While the Scottish Government was unable to provide specific data on crimes in pharmacies in the country, the spokesperson noted that: “Recorded crime in Scotland remains at one of the lowest levels since 1974 and is down 41% since 2006 and 2007.
“Over the long term, there has been a significant reduction of police recorded non-sexual violent crime – down 36% between 2006 and 20707 and 2020 and 2021.”
In light of the investigation findings, C+D is now calling on health and social care commissioners across the UK to provide funding to help pharmacies pay for additional security measures, for example panic buttons, CCTV, and body cams.
Read more about C+D’s #NoExcuseForAbuse campaign and sign the petition.