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Police chief: Theft in pharmacies may rise as cost-of-living crisis bites

There is “a danger” that the cost-of-living crisis may trigger a rise in thefts in pharmacies, “driven not by greed but necessity”, Patrick Holdaway, police superintendent at the National Business Crime Centre (NBCC) has told C+D. 

While Mr Holdaway cautioned that it is not for him to say whether an increase in the cost of living will definitely result in more thefts, the possibility is “something we just want to make people aware of”, he said in an exclusive interview with C+D last week (June 1).

This potential rise in crime “equally applies” to both external theft by patients and internal theft by pharmacy employees, he added.


Read more: 3-minute briefing: Key findings from C+D’s crimes in pharmacies investigation


“We know there is a danger that theft rises, because of the cost of living, the cost of prescriptions,” he added.

“Thefts in pharmacy might be more due to need than greed in terms of ‘I need the medication, I can’t afford to pay for it’.”

Some retailers, including pharmacy contractors, are “very aware” and concerned about how the cost-of-living crisis might affect employees as they “try [to] save some money”, Mr Holdaway said. 


Not always reported to the police


As community pharmacies are often small with limited numbers of staff, “they can be quite vulnerable” to crimes, Mr Holdaway said.

While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why external theft takes place, sometimes the perpetrators might do so “to fund a habit”, he suggested.


Read more: Why are pharmacy teams reporting fewer crimes to the police?


However, the NBCC is aware that “a lot of” theft – both internal and external – “does not always get reported to the police”, he told C+D.

When dealing with internal theft, “retailers will just get rid of the member of staff if they feel there’s an issue”, Mr Holdaway said. 

While the NBCC understands that theft by employees would be driven by necessity, it is “deemed to be a serious offence by the courts, so report it”, he stressed.

“What will happen once you report it will depend on the individual circumstances,” he added.


Tips for contractors


Contractors should monitor stock levels consistently, particularly “access to secure locations” with controlled drugs, Mr Holdaway told C+D.

Other advice for contractors also includes till compliance.

“We’re conscious also that the £20 notes are due to change in September this year. Is there a question around people looking to try and start getting rid of their old £20 notes and how are they monitoring that from that perspective?" he added.


Read more: 'One incident of violence in pharmacy is too many - that's why we're calling for dedicated funding'


Contractors should also implement an internal reporting line for internal theft, “where employees can phone people if they need to report somebody and don’t want to do it directly, [instead] they can do it anonymously”, he suggested.

The charity Retail Trust also “offers support and guidance for staff in terms of funding, opportunities, addictions,” he added.

It is also vital that a clear policy around internal theft is implemented, he said.


Read C+D’s open letter and sign the petition asking for ringfenced funding for security measures in pharmacies here.


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