Community pharmacy multiples are taking safety measures to help their staff deal with cases of abuse from the public, such as asking staff to wear body cameras and installing panic buttons that are linked to police stations.

The Company Chemists’ Association (CCA) published a statement yesterday (2 December) condemning growing rates of violence against pharmacy staff.

‘We are concerned to hear of growing rates of violence against staff, including during the Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst some members report that incidents have now returned to pre-pandemic levels, any incident of violent or threatening behaviour is unacceptable,’ they said.

In response to the increase in abuse, the trade body announced its pharmacies would take a number of safety precautions, such as employing body cameras and panic buttons, plus additional CCTV and signage to deter abusive behaviour and hiring additional security staff.

This comes in response to a statement from Duncan Rudkin, chief executive of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), who said that while ‘most’ patients appreciate the help and care they receive from pharmacy teams they have heard ‘worrying reports of pharmacy professionals and pharmacy teams working in a range of settings experiencing abuse and even violence from members of the public’.

‘We want to make clear that any abuse of pharmacy staff is completely unacceptable and robust action should be quickly taken in response to any incidents, including by law enforcement,’ he added.

Mr Rudkin also asked the public to ‘treat pharmacy staff with respect at all times, and to follow the requirements on wearing face masks, as well as any social distancing measures in place within a pharmacy’.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) welcomed the statement from the regulator and reiterated the message that abuse of pharmacy staff is ‘deplorable’.

Claire Anderson, the RPS president said: ‘No one should experience abuse or violence in the course of their working day.

‘Pharmacy teams are an important and valued part of the healthcare workforce and have a right to be treated with respect at all times.

‘They must be able to carry out their vital work such as providing life-saving vaccinations, medicines and advice, without feeling threatened or endangered whilst at work.

‘Violence and abuse against hard working pharmacy teams is deplorable and I urge those affected to report it to the police, so they have the necessary information to build up a picture of what’s happening in local areas.’

She added: ‘We will continue to raise this topic with the NHS, government, patient groups, the police and across the profession, so that pharmacists and their teams can look after patients safely.’

In a primary care bulletin circulated last week (30 November), NHS directors of primary care Dr Nikki Kanani and Ed Waller acknowledged an increase in abuse from patients across the NHS and in primary care.

‘Staff and teams continue to go above and beyond to provide the best care possible and equally deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. You should not be subjected to abuse of any kind,’ they said.

In response to this ‘worrying’ trend, NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I) has published a set of downloadable materials to help primary care workers encourage patients to act respectfully.

Alongside these materials, NHSE&I has published a ‘package of [support] measures’ for staff.

This will include wellbeing resources and confidential coaching services, conflict resolution training, staff support and bereavement helplines, and guidance on reporting incidents of violence to the Care Quality Commission via FutureNHS.

The Scottish Government has also published a worker respect toolkit ‘to help reduce levels of violent and abusive behaviour being experienced by health and social care workers’.

In July, Boots UK gave body cameras and installed panic alarms to its shop floor staff to deal with abusive and violent customers.