Most pharmacists (85%) have said that they, or someone they work with, has experienced verbal or racial abuse whilst at work, the Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA) has found.

The membership organisation has called for adequate risk assessments and preventative safety measures to be put in place, as well as a zero-tolerance approach, after its annual safer pharmacies survey for 2021 revealed the scale of abuse faced by pharmacists.

Of the 1,337 respondents, 44% reported that they, or someone that they work with, has experienced physical or violent abuse in the last month. Over a third (38%) said they have had to log a police report in relation to physical violence or abuse, property damage, or theft.

Most pharmacists (89%) also said the number of incidents had increased in the last year – a rise that the PDA blames on inadequate staffing levels, frustration from patients around the time taken to dispense their prescriptions, and some cases of medicines being unavailable.

In addition, the survey revealed pharmacists reported that there is no safe staffing all of the time (14), most of the time (36%), around half of the time (26%) or a minority of the time (36%). Only 14% of pharmacists said they never struggled with safe staffing.

Some members have said they are anxious about going to work and do not feel supported by their management, resulting in them looking to work elsewhere, the PDA also said.

‘Flash points’ as patients wait

Alison Jones, director of policy at the PDA, explained that abuse is more likely to occur when patients are waiting for safety checks occur while dispensing a prescription item.

She said: ‘There are necessary and regulated checks which need to take place with every prescription item that is dispensed to make sure that the medicines are safe and appropriate for the individual.

‘This important safety net means that it can take a little time for patients to wait in the pharmacy and this is often where flash points can occur,’ she added.

‘Pharmacists and pharmacy teams need to feel safe in their workplace and there is no excuse for them to be subjected to the violence and abuse that we are hearing about from our members.’

The PDA continues to call for pharmacy businesses to adopt its Safer Pharmacies Charter, which includes a commitment around a zero-tolerance approach to violence and abuse.

It also said teams should be appropriately protected from ‘often-daily threats’ through the provision of appropriate staffing levels and security measures such as panic alarms and CCTV.

This comes after data from the Health Education England (HEE) 2021 pharmacy workforce survey revealed a significant reduction in staff working in community pharmacy in recent years