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Pharmacist attacked for asking customer to wear mask


Robin Swann

Robin Swann

Michael Cooper

Robin Swann

A community pharmacist in Northern Ireland has been physically assaulted for asking a customer to wear a mask, Health Minister Robin Swann has said.

Mr Swann described the incident as "appalling" and said the behaviour was totally unacceptable.

No information has been released about where the attack took place.

"I am appalled to hear that a community pharmacist has been physically assaulted for asking a customer to wear a mask," the UUP MLA said.

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"Those who cannot wear a mask for a valid reason will always be respected by health and social care colleagues so it is completely unacceptable that anyone should face abuse for requesting that someone wears a mask.

"Pharmacists work at the very heart of our communities providing support and expertise daily. They deserve our utmost respect and anything less will not be tolerated."

Una O'Farrell, Pharmacists Defence Association (PDA) Regional Official For Northern Ireland, said there had been a rise in cases of aggression towards pharmacists during the pandemic.

"Working practices have changed there's an increased demand on the system and we've remained accessible our doors have been open," she said.

"We have seen an increase in reports of aggression or violence in pharmacies. We at the PDA are calling for the Department of Health, employers and all associated bodies to support our campaign of zero tolerance and to publicly state that.

"Regardless of circumstance I think violence or aggression is never an appropriate response in a healthcare setting."

Mrs O'Farrell said it was important that pharmacists were given protection when carrying out their work.

She noted that there had been incidents of pharmacists being stabbed in Northern Ireland in the past.

"It really is time that we had support for all of us to be working safely and without that threat hanging over us," Mrs O'Farrell said.

Alliance Party health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw said the attack on the pharmacist was "shocking and disappointing".

"This whole year for community pharmacists has been so stressful, they have been at the frontline providing service whenever other primary care providers have had to shut their doors," the South Belfast MLA said.

"This is a real insult to not just the person who has been assaulted, but the whole profession who have worked so hard to deliver and the serve the communities in which they're located.

"I genuinely was very saddened to see this happen."

Ms Bradshaw said it was important people showed respect to those carrying out key services during the pandemic.

"They are working in very, very difficult circumstances in this pandemic so I wouldn't like to see this repeated again at any time.

"They are so accessible, that is part of the benefit of having community pharmacists their door is open, you don't have to make an appointment you can turn up and have your queries answered. It's a really important service, especially for the elderly and those with long-term health conditions."

Pam Cameron, DUP health spokesperson, called for a full police investigation into the incident.

"From the very beginning of the this pandemic pharmacy has been the front line of our health service when people struggled to access their GP, they queued outside their local pharmacy, reliant on their services and advice," the South Antrim MLA said.

"Services provided by pharmacist s across NI are invaluable and should be respected and appreciated.

"This reported behaviour is unacceptable in any circumstance. An assault on a pharmacist who had asked that a mask be worn is completely unacceptable and I trust that this matter has been referred to the PSNI for investigation."

Under the current coronavirus regulations people are required to wear face masks in indoor settings to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

Masks must be worn in a number of settings including shops, shopping centres, public, private and school transport services, taxis, airplanes, public transport stations and airports, banks and some government offices.

However people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing one are exempt.

Belfast Telegraph