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How I coped with… an armed robbery

What would you do if your pharmacy was held at knifepoint?

Sopheak Lim, pharmacy manager of Thomas James Chemists in Wimbledon, describes the shock of finding his staff had suffered an armed robbery, and highlights the importance of sharing such experiences to improve safety:

I had a day off work [on October 13, 2015] when I received a call from a pharmacy colleague from a nearby branch to say our pharmacy had been robbed and that staff had been held at knifepoint. They asked if I  couldprovide some support for staff. 

I was really shocked. We’re a quiet pharmacy. It was the first time such an incident had happened. The locum pharmacist manager and the pre-registration pharmacist were in charge [on that day]. My first reaction was one of concern for their welfare, and to make sure that no one had been harmed.

The robbery

The locum pharmacy manager working that day had previously been a pre-reg pharmacist with me for a year, and she had only been practising for two months prior to this incident. The new pre-reg pharmacist had been visiting a GP surgery to collect a prescription, so the locum manager was on her own. It was at that time that the assailant struck.

He had been pretending to roam around the shop. He approached the counter and asked the manager if there was a male pharmacist or male dispenser. She said no. At that point, he took out a knife, pointed it at her and said:  “Right, show me where you keep your cash,” and walked her into the dispensary, still pointing a knife at her.

It was all on CCTV – how he’d kept his distance while she pointed to the cash drawer. He emptied the drawer – there was about £400 – threatened her again with his knife, told her not to follow him back into the pharmacy, and ran off.

Just after the robber left, the pre-reg arrived to find the locum manager in shock and crying. That’s when the pre-reg rang a neighbouring branch so I could be alerted. The branch also sent a member of their staff to help support [us].

The aftermath

When I arrived at the pharmacy that same day it was closed and police officers were there. I was relieved that no harm had been done to the manager and the pre-reg, though clearly both of them were in shock.  A policewoman interviewed the manager in our consultation room. She was in tears, trying to comprehend what had happened. The policewoman tried to console her.

When I went home, I felt really bad.  But I remembered – and always remember – that when I was training the manager when she was a pre-reg, [I told her] that if she ever came across such a scenario to not aggravate or challenge the assailant. At least that training helped her, and she came to no harm.

Overcoming the incident

She received counselling from the police after the robbery. She went back to work the next day, feeling that keeping busy was the best remedy. There’s been no follow up from the police about the incident as yet.

After the robbery I looked at the CCTV footage. The robber must have staked out the pharmacy before, and knew who the staff were.

I shared this information with staff at the pharmacy, pharmacies in the local area and via NHS England, to make them aware to look out for people behaving suspiciously. I’ve also trained, and would encourage other pharmacists to train, pharmacy staff about the importance of not being confrontational in these situations – it’s just not worth injuring yourself for the sake of a few hundred pounds.

What happened that day has made me more suspicious of people, which is a shame, but you have to be vigilant, you have to very careful, and not too trusting. You can’t just sit in your pharmacy and feel comfortable.

To other pharmacists who have experienced a robbery, I would say: share any learning from that experience with other pharmacists, so we can try and prevent such incidents from happening again.


Has your pharmacy ever been robbed?

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

That is a proper baptism of fire for the newly qualified! This is one of those situations where you have no idea what you would do until it actually happens and I hope it never does. I did work in a pharmacy in Sheffield once where the staff told me of an occasion where the post office (joined on and part of the same shop) got done over and the pharmacy staff had no idea it had happened.

Gerard Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

We had an armed robber with a pistol come into a pharmacy while working in Manchester about four or five years ago. Saw that he had not cocked it as the spring was fully extended and thought it looked like a spud gun, anyway told the police, The staff were very distressed and I just handed him the morphine tablets from the safe that he wanted. He had done a few chemists in the East Manchester area and I was not putting myself or staff at risk. I thought it was all quite entertaining and made a good little story, you just have to take these things in your stride. My army training taught me to 'Be Calm And Carry On'. LOL

Jignesh Patel, Community pharmacist

We had an armed robbery on New Years New around 2010. We recognised the two culprits as local drug addicts. They were arrested and sentenced, only to be released within two years. When staff see them around the streets they feel very anxious. At the time we felt we were been interrogated by the police and PCTs incidents teams rather than being supported by them. So much red tape.  As witnesses, we have to pay locum fees and additional staff costs for staff to attend court. We only get a small contribution to our costs.  So, not only do we make losses during the incident, there is staff time off to recover from the incident and in some cases for medical help, time off to attend police interviews, and time off for attending court.  On top of this after an incident it is an offence to shut the pharmacy early according. NHS England. You need written authorisation to do this.


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