Pharmacists See Spike in Threats and Violence During Coronavirus Pandemic

A security guard mans the doors of a Boots pharmacy as members of the public observe socia
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Pharmacists in the UK have said that violence and threats have increased, with major high street chain Boots installing protective perspex guards at tills in thousands of stores.

The pharmacists have observed tensions worsening since the implementation of social distancing and the lockdown. Customers have become agitated with having to wait outside before being permitted entry to reduce overcrowding, and with GP surgeries closed and shortages of basic medicines, they have begun to take out their frustration on the frontline workers.

In one instance in Stratford, London, a customer smashed a glass door and threatened to kill staff. Police are now patrolling near several pharmacies across the country after reports of a rise in threats of violence and verbal abuse towards employees, reports The Guardian.

“Staff have been told: ‘I hope you get the virus’ or ‘I hope you die from coronavirus’ multiple times per day,” one pharmaceutical professional said. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Wales also said some of their members have complained of “being verbally abused and even spat at”.

Pharmacists are not on the government’s list of key medical workers, so miss out on the state rationing of personal protection equipment (PPE). Larger chains have had to step in to send masks, gloves, and gowns to their staff to protect them as they encounter hundreds of people every day, some of whom may be carrying Chinese coronavirus.

In reaction to the spike in incivility, Boots has launched the #PrescribeKindness campaign. The UK’s largest beauty and medicines retailer has also sent perspex screens to 2,500 of its stores as well as 20,000 light-weight, mobile screens to keep their staff safe both from contagion but also from violent customers.

National Health Service (NHS) staff are also subject to muggings and abuse since the start of the pandemic. Nurses were advised this week not to wear their uniforms in public after some had been verbally abused, spat at, and called “disease spreaders”.  The week before, they were told to hide their identity badges and NHS-branded lanyards as criminals were mugging them for the items which, when shown at some retailers, gives them access to early shopping hours and even free food and drink.

In other crimes against medical services, Mark Manley was sentenced to six months in prison on Thursday for stealing PPE equipment including masks out of an ambulance in London. In March vandals drilled holes in the tires of six ambulances in East Kent, and thieves stole precious oxygen canisters from a hospital in Manchester last month.


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