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Staff members stabbed at Falls Road pharmacy robbery

By Claire Williamson

Two pharmacists have been stabbed at a Belfast pharmacy during an armed robbery.

Police and forensics are currently at the scene of the incident on the Falls Road.

At around 9.30am a man armed with a knife entered the James McDonagh pharmacy in west Belfast.

It's understood the man entered the shop demanding prescription drugs.

Sinn Fein councillor Steven Corr said customers that witnessed the incident in the shop have been left traumatised and that "prescription drugs are doing more damage in the community than illegal drugs".

He threatened two staff members before attacking them.

One member of staff, a man aged in his 40s, was stabbed in his arm.

The second man, aged in his 50s, suffered a stab wound to his chest.

Both have been taken to hospital for treatment. Police said their injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.

It's understood other members of staff tackled the man and restrained him until police arrived.

A 26-year-old man was detained at the scene on suspicion of offences including attempted murder and attempted robbery.

He is currently in police custody.

Mr Corr said: "We wish the men injured a speedy recovery and commend their bravery.

He continued: "Prescription drugs are doing more damage in our community than illegal drugs because they are more widespread.

"This is the damage of it - you have people robbing and buying them illegally on the internet.

"The dangers of prescription drugs is something we are looking to get a handle on.

"Customers in the shop were traumatised.

"There is a range of emotions in the community, there is anger, fear, resentment, disgust and shock."

Community Pharmacy NI said security of staff in community pharmacies must be urgently reviewed.

A spokesman said: "Firstly our thoughts are with those who have been injured and we wish them well in their recovery.

"By its very nature, community pharmacy is an essential frontline service – but whilst this accessibility is important and benefits the patient, it leaves the profession vulnerable.

"Attacks such as these have escalated dramatically in recent months and act as real threats to pharmacists, their teams and patients and simply can’t be tolerated. If the profession is to keep the open door service much valued and needed by the public, the security of all staff in community pharmacies must be urgently reviewed & enhanced by the necessary authorities."

Meanwhile the chair of the Pharmacy Forum NI condemned the attack and called it "shocking" as they wished those impacted a full recovery.

Sheelin McKeagney said: "The Trusts, HSCB  and the Department have sent out a message of zero tolerance on abusive behaviour and violence against healthcare staff and I would like to repeat that message today. In some instances increased security has been put in place across the Trusts, however, this is not something that most community pharmacists are able to consider.

“Whilst, we should be somewhat reassured that such violence is an extremely rare occurrence in  a community pharmacy setting, I will be seeking talks with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Department of Health to examine how pharmacists can improve their personal security and that of their staff."

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service said they attended and took three patients to the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Detective Sergeant Michael Hawthorne is appealing for witnesses. Detectives can be contacted at Musgrave Police Station on 101 quoting reference number 249 of 06/04/17.

Information can also be passed anonymously via the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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