‘No other option’: Knights Pharmacy gets security guards and counselling for staff
Knights Pharmacy has introduced security guards and a “support guardian” to offer counselling to staff, after witnessing a “steep rise” in abuse directed at its pharmacy teams.
The guards were introduced at two of the chain’s branches in March after “the abuse had become so bad”, Mo Kolia, superintendent at Knights Pharmacy and chair of Dudley local pharmaceutical committee (LPC) told C+D on Tuesday (June 14).
While the independent multiple – which operates 98 community pharmacies in England and Wales – has found that the introduction of security guards has “certainly helped”, verbal and physical abuse is witnessed “each and every day” across several branches, Mr Kolia added.
Community pharmacy is “supposed to be a welcoming environment but our staff are so scared that unfortunately, we had no other option but to do that”, he said.
Following positive developments at one of the two branches, the chain has recently decided to keep just one security guard at the remaining branch at which they are still needed.
Government “could have acted much, much more quickly”
It is “hard to pinpoint exactly one reason” why threats of abuse and violence have increased, however “generally, [medicine] shortages haven’t helped”, he told C+D.
“These things are beyond the control of community pharmacy,” he added. “I think the government could have acted much, much more quickly.”
Delays in approving the serious shortage protocols for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) products and supply chain issues, “which could have been resolved a lot more easily”, are factors that may have increased abuse directed at pharmacy teams, Mr Kolia suggested.
Ongoing issues regarding GP waiting times are also “having a massive impact”, he said.
Community pharmacies remained open throughout the pandemic, so Mr Kolia and his team “assumed that there would have been a greater appreciation for [the sector] coming out of COVID-19”.
Pharmacy also led the charge on the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, he added. “Knights Pharmacy was one of the first COVID-19 vaccination sites in the country. We also had one of the first 24-hour vaccination centres in the country.”
Over the course of the pandemic, community pharmacies “were delivering prescriptions, far more than we had ever done before”, he said.
Workforce depleted, but “also struggling mentally”
With a rise in verbal and physical abuse witnessed by pharmacy teams, Knights has also seen an increase in the number of staff members contacting its dedicated “support guardian” – a member of the HR team “specifically trained on counselling as a post-pandemic response to the acute mental health crisis we are facing in pharmacy”, Mr Kolia told C+D.
In post since 2020, this staff member answers “any questions and queries” Knights Pharmacy team members may have and acts to support “the emotional needs of our staff members”, he added.
“She’s certainly entertaining calls on a daily basis now,” he revealed. “I think the biggest issue for me is having a workforce that is not only depleted, but also struggling mentally,” he added.
“Colleagues don’t realise they’re suffering”
While having a dedicated support network in community pharmacy “really does help”, Mr Kolia told C+D, the number of pharmacy colleagues who continue to “suffer in silence” is “hugely concerning”.
He recently visited a pharmacy to carry out a “general review” of a pharmacist, he said.
“The pharmacist broke down in tears around the issues they were experiencing, around the behaviour that was being exacted upon them, around the racial abuse that they were actually subjected to,” he said.
After allowing the pharmacist to go home, he signed them off work for two weeks, he added.
“The concern there for me was that that pharmacist was unable to recognise that they were suffering with a mental health issue,” Mr Kolia said.
As LPC chair, Mr Kolia hopes “to bring the mental health of colleagues to the forefront” of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee's and Department of Health and Social Care's agendas, he told C+D.
Read all of the findings from C+D’s crimes in pharmacies investigation in our dedicated hub and sign our petition asking for commissioners to provide community pharmacies with funding to cover additional security measures.
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