Pharmacists 'spat on’, quit over abuse

Pharmacists are being physically assaulted, racially abused and spat on by customers as the profession's guild urges customers to work with them through new medication limits and social distancing measures.

Kiely Hindmarch, a pharmacist in NSW's Lake Macquarie region, told the ABC she was experiencing "absolutely horrific" abuse daily.

"I have been called the 'c' word quite often, spat at. I've had a woman spit on the counter and lick it. I've been punched in the face, I've been shoved," she said.

Ms Hindmarch also said she had four staff quit their jobs as a result of the abuse.

"The constant abuse, (of) my staff and myself, several times a day, not just once every couple of weeks, it's a daily exercise, no amount of money in the world is worth it," she said.

 

David Heffernan is the NSW branch president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and told news.com.au that while the majority of customers did the right thing, he was "constantly fielding" reports of abuse from pharmacists.

"Basically, we're seeing the worst in some people but ultimately the best in the majority, and that's just the way it is," he said.

One pharmacist husband and wife team had reported being "viciously" racially abused by a customer, while another had been punched in the head for a box of tissues, Mr Heffernan said.

"I had a colleague who was in bed crying this morning and her husband told her to stay put because she is starting to unravel a bit - the stress of it all, the emotional strain," he said.

RELATED: How 'flattening the curve' saves lives

Chemists like this one on the Gold Coast have introduced markings on the ground for customers to follow when queuing in line with social distancing measures. Picture: Tim Marsden
Chemists like this one on the Gold Coast have introduced markings on the ground for customers to follow when queuing in line with social distancing measures. Picture: Tim Marsden

"Dealing with customers and just trying to maintain the requirements imposed on us by the federal government in the distancing, but also maintaining the social obligations of serving (people) with health front and centre, it is a challenge."

Mr Heffernan many of the challenges arose from new social distancing measures, limits on medications and medical providers switching to telehealth consults.

More telehealth consults has meant that pharmacists are now being expected to perform more services like blood pressure checks which would normally be done by a GP, he said.

"People are finding it frustrating when their normal weekly activity is just doing their shopping and going to the pharmacy is being disrupted," Mr Heffernan said.

Mr Heffernan, who also owns a pharmacy in Culburra Beach on the NSW South Coast, called on the public to work with pharmacists.

 

Many pharmacists, like this one in Germany, are serving customers from behind a flexiglass barrier for public health reasons. Picture: Jens Schlueter/Getty Images.
Many pharmacists, like this one in Germany, are serving customers from behind a flexiglass barrier for public health reasons. Picture: Jens Schlueter/Getty Images.

"Like everyone else we're in it together," he said.

"(Pharmacists), they have stepped up and are out there front and centre doing their best for the public. This rules are imposed not on us but on everyone and we ask you to work with us, be patient, not to panic.

"If there is an issue arising with your medication whether it's a shortage or such, the pharmacist will find a solution for you.

Last month pharmacies were forced to introduce limits on certain medications as panic buying in response to the coronavirus pandemic swept the country.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said children's paracetamol, such as Panadol, would be kept behind the counter.

Pharmacists have now been limited to dispensing just one month's supply of certain prescription medications and asthmatics will have to provide evidence of their condition to access Ventolin.

Over-the-counter medicines, particularly Ventolin, Salbutamol and paracetamol, are now limited to a maximum of one packet per purchase.

Originally published as Pharmacists 'spat on', quit over abuse


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