In a statement posted on Twitter on Friday (February 12), Northern Ireland's health minister Robin Swann said that he was “appalled” after hearing of the attack, describing it as “completely unacceptable that anyone should face abuse” for the request.
The incident comes a week after the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) announced that community pharmacies would be able to access up to £4,000 in funding for security measures.
Mr Swann did not give any details about the incident, but commented: “Pharmacists work at the very heart of our communities providing support and expertise daily. They deserve our utmost respect and anything less will not be tolerated.”
Gerard Greene, chief executive of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland, said the “horrendous attack” was “not an isolated incident and we are aware of several other episodes of abusive and threatening behaviour towards pharmacy staff occurring across Northern Ireland in the past weeks.
“These need to be stamped out right now and we call on the public to be kind, understand the difficult environment that our community pharmacists are working in and have patience,” he added.
Cathy Harrison, chief pharmaceutical officer for Northern Ireland, tweeted that the incident had been “a terrifying experience for everyone involved”.
Funding for additional security measures
Pharmacists can claim up to £4,000 to help address any issues identified through a self-assessment audit undertaken as part of a security review in January 2019, the HSCB confirmed to C+D.
Additional security measures covered by the scheme includes alarms, CCTV, changes to consultation room access and “robbery prevention”. Pharmacists have until March 31 to claim for any equipment bought, but can also be reimbursed for purchases made after April 1, 2020, the HSCB confirmed.
This security funding from the HSCB follows a “zero tolerance” campaign towards violent attacks and abuse towards pharmacy staff, after a spate of incidents in 2017.
In April the same year, two pharmacists were stabbed at James McDonagh Pharmacy in Belfast during a failed attempt to steal tramadol.
Following Mr Swann’s remarks, Gerard Greene, chief executive of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland, noted the “worrying emergence of abuse and violence being directed at pharmacy staff”.
The HSCB and the Northern Ireland Department of Health declined to comment further.