National officer Paul Day told C+D that the Union "occasionally" receives reports from members "of situations where a person was abusive or threatening to the pharmacist, and the pharmacy somehow wants to placate that person so as to not lose their business”.
Speaking exclusively to C+D yesterday (May 16), Mr Day gave the example of substance-dependent patients, who may be “regular custom for the pharmacy in terms of finances”.
However, “we cannot permit these people to be rude or assault [staff] just because we might lose income from that service”, he said.
Funding cuts pose further risk
While the incident last month at James McDonagh Pharmacy in west Belfast – which saw two pharmacists stabbed in a failed attempt to steal tramadol – “has made [pharmacists] more aware of their personal safety at work”, it is an issue that “constantly comes up”, Mr Day said.
The current pressures on the sector could make the situation worse, he added: “The pharmacy cuts will undoubtedly make it harder for pharmacies to find the budget to implement measures to keep their staff safe.”
“It is not just about having the money to install a panic button. If the patient experience is declining, the atmosphere is going to become more abrasive,” he said.
"Something as simplistic as having a clear sign displayed in the pharmacy that says: 'Your prescription will take 25 minutes [to prepare] before you receive it'," will help manage patients' expectations, Mr Day said (see box below for more tips).
Whose role is it to protect staff?
The government has a role to play in funding measures to keep pharmacy staff safe, but “pharmacy owners are not relieved of their duty of care to their employees”, he stressed.
“There is always a risk when dealing with the public, especially in a pharmacy where the public are often in pressured situations,” Mr Day said.
The PDA Union has produced a guidance and resource pack for pharmacists to help mitigate the risks they face at work.