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Two pharmacists stabbed in 'vicious' attack over Tramadol

James McDonagh Pharmacy. Credit: © 2017 Google, image capture: June 2016
James McDonagh Pharmacy. Credit: © 2017 Google, image capture: June 2016

Two pharmacists were stabbed in James McDonagh Pharmacy in west Belfast yesterday (April 6).

The suspect entered the pharmacy on Falls Road at around 9.30am, where he threatened the owner and a locum before attacking them, the Police Service for Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

PSNI confirmed that a man in his 40s sustained a stab wound to his arm, while a second sustained a wound to his chest. Their injuries were not believed to be life-threatening, PSNI added.

Read the owner's account of the attack below.

Police also confirmed a 26-year-old suspect had been detained at the scene on suspicion of offences – including attempted murder and attempted robbery – and is currently in custody.

Security concerns

A spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland said there is a “recognised drug problem” in Belfast – and Northern Ireland more widely – and prescription drugs “seem to be part of the problem”.

He added that there have been “several” attacks on pharmacies in west Belfast "in recent times".

Sheelin McKeagney, chair of Pharmacy Forum Northern Ireland, said he would be talking to police and the Department of Health about how pharmacists can improve their personal security.

Mr McKeagney said the attack was “shocking” and would have been a traumatic experience for the members of staff.

Police are appealing for witnesses to the attack and have asked anyone with information to contact detective sergeant Michael Hawthorne at Musgrave Police Station by calling 101 and quoting reference number 249 of 06/04/17, or calling Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

The pharmacy owner's account

"A guy came into the shop and he had a balaclava on. He came round to the dispensary and was looking for Tramadol, so I said, ‘You're not getting any medication’. Then he stabbed [locum pharmacist] Peter [Wright] in the chest,” pharmacy owner Paul McDonagh told C+D.

“Peter just said ‘calm down’ and then the next thing [the attacker] has stuck a knife in his chest," Mr McDonagh said. “Peter is in his 60s. To stab anyone in the chest is bad enough, but to do it to a 60-year-old man is horrific.”

“After that he came [over] to attack me. There was a brief struggle and I was stabbed in the arm, the groin and the hand.”

The pharmacist added that he was “flattered” by the number of customers and local people who had rallied around to offer support after the attack.

Mr McDonagh returned to the pharmacy today (April 7), but Mr Wright, though discharged from hospital, is not fit to return to work yet, Mr McDonagh added.

What can pharmacies do to protect themselves from crime?

Alia Arif, Locum pharmacist

We live in terrifying times.Wishing a speedy recovery to all the pharmacy staff who will all be traumatised.The underlying issue is that prescription drug abuse is obviously not being tackled by the authorities.Substance misuse services are themselves misused so we have a lot of work to do to fix this problem.

A Long Serving Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

,I was once working as a locum and was dragged over the counter by the lapels of my jacket so that the woman could spit in my face. She wanted her husband's prescription free even though she wouldn't tell me his exemption. I was bruised and shaken and phoned the pharmacy superintendent to report the incident and was told  'if you go home we won't pay you for today, and you're obviously ok because you're phoning and the woman has gone'. That was about 20 years ago so nothing changes. 


Navid Kaleem, Superintendent Pharmacist

Sorry to hear what happened my sympathies and well wishes to all involved. I would reiterate what AD has said, give them what they want your personal safety is paramount. No one should go to work fearing for their safety. Pharmacies are very vulnerable especially in areas of high drug dependency. Install a panic alarm that is connected to police, ensure CCTV is of good quality, be vigilant usually people plan these attacks anybody acting unusual speak to drug rehab and ban them.

Harnek Chera, Community pharmacist

Irrespective, of independent or multiple settings, the sad truth is that reduced funding will inevitably result in less staff and most likely increase the risk of incidents like these occuring. Ideally no one working in health care should be at risk whether in a pharmacy, GP surgery or A&E but it will unfortunately happen. Sad truth of times we live in. Best wishes to the Pharmacists. Wishing you a full and speedy recovery.

Arshed Dadhiwala, Community pharmacist

I'm so sorry for the stabbings and wish both of those injured a speedy recovery.

If anyone else ever finds themselves in this situation, please cooperate fully with the armed robbers. Your life is worth more than a box of tramadol or any other drug.

Also, how about a zero tolerance policy for abuse towards pharmacy staff, as they have in other parts of the NHS?

James Mac, Community pharmacist

I've worked in pharmacies in that area and was always surprised there wasn't more armed robbing. I can remember my brother telling me CCTV footage of a colleague, being led by the hair to the diazepam, made it to the news. Another former colleague got an extended "holiday" off work after he'd been hit over the head with a hammer, about 10 miles away from the area in the article. I learned from these incidents that there are "professional pharmacy thieves". Pharmacists! Remember! Hand over your mazzies lest you get an evidence based, NHS community care, personalised beating.

Lucas Perez, Student

Best wishes to all those concerned



Barry Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

My very best wishes to the two of you. Thank goodness you're both alive. Have a very speedy recovery.

A Hussain, Senior Management

Awful story.  Can't imagine going back in the next day after that.

Sharon Stone, Communications

My sincere sympathies go out to the pharmacists affected ( and staff ). Threats occur every day in retail pharmacy but seem to get played down by certain multiples. Wouldn't want their customers thinking they were unsafe and affect advantage card points. 

T. Pharm., Community pharmacist

Something awful has happened. And you have to have a dig at the multiples? Grow up.

M Yang, Community pharmacist

Unfortunately, mutliples aren't known for being caring toward their employees in incidents involving violence. When I was still an employee with Boots, I recall a dispensing assistant who was violently attacked by a substance misuse patient. Her work tunic was torn and she was pulled by the hair. It took several minutes before this person could be subdued. The patient was arrested and given a permanent ban. The story didn't end there, though. The dispensing assistant later transferred to a different branch, only to encounter her assailant! Turns out the phamacy had taken on the person in question as a patient. The poor woman was expected to just get on with her work and have to put up with seeing her assailant every day. An unpleasant reminder of a traumatic experience. Not sure what happened to this employee, but wish her well.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

That would be breaking law if that was the case.

Sarah Smythe, Information Technology

Yes absolutely, many of my friends working for multiples would concur. So I would say to T.Pharm community pharmacist, you need a reality check. ( oh and Grow Up ) This is widespread!!!!!!!!!

S Pessina, Pharmacist Director

To T.Pharm.... You should GROW UP youself and take a good look at the"professions " working conditions for community pharmacy ,  what she says is correct. Less staff more & more substance abuse patients!!!

Shaun Steren, Pharmaceutical Adviser

No, sympathies were given and an exploration of the phenomenon followed. You don't get to shut down debate with your virtue signalling. 

I have also found the unwillingness of many contractors to examine the abuse their employees receive. This maybe an isolated incident, but it provokes an important debate around the abuse of pharmacists and their staff. 

James Mac, Community pharmacist


Lucas Perez, Student

Nothing to what staff in A/E recieve 

Leon The Apothecary, Student

It's not a competition Lucas. 

Shaun Steren, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Maybe not, but so what? 

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