Community pharmacists are now protected from assault under the Assault on Emergency Workers Bill.

The bill now defines an emergency worker as ‘a person employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide ­– NHS health services or services in the support of the provision of NHS health services and whose general activities in doing so involve face to face interaction with individuals receiving the services or with other members of the public’.

Sector subject to violence

Prior to the legislation change, the bill protected emergency workers, such as the police, paramedic drivers, A&E nurses and doctors and anyone working in an emergency environment.

Earlier this month, staff at Shelton pharmacy in Stoke-on-Trent told a local newspaper it had decided to scrap the business's needle exchange programme following alleged altercations with patients over drug supply – including once incident where a knife was held to one worker’s throat.

Claire Ward, director of public affairs at the union the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), said: 'Our members are often at the front line in the NHS and the community when violence and assaults occur.

'They deal with people who come into the pharmacy, often unknown to them, who may be abusive and violent.

'As the custodians of controlled drugs and medicines, pharmacists are often placed in the difficult position of having to refuse patients who are highly drug dependent from accessing these supplies. That can and does lead to frustration and in too many cases violence.'

A welcome change

Ms Ward continued: 'We are delighted that MPs have recognised the need to protect other categories of people and not just those in emergency situations.

'We look forward to seeing this legislation progress through its parliamentary stages and get on to the statute book next year.'

The House of Commons will review the Bill for a third time in April 2018.