PHARMACY staff are being abused by patients as chemists report “exceptional” demand for medicine during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pharmacists across Sussex have been sworn and shouted at by customers, health chiefs said.

Attempts by people to stockpile medicines or order ahead of their due date mean some chemists have received two weeks’ worth of orders in one day.


Community Pharmacy Surrey and Sussex chief James Wood said the atmosphere was tense at many pharmacies.

“I was working on the frontline on Saturday and there was a bit of a kerfuffle between patients about some not adhering to social distancing,” he said.

“There was quite a lot of tension and some patients wanting their prescriptions in three minutes or five minutes.

“I’ve been a pharmacist for 17 years and that was one of the busiest days I’ve ever worked.

“We were scrambling to give people advice and get medicine over the counter.

“The telephone just never stopped ringing.

“Abuse is the last thing our teams need right now.

“Our message to this minority of people who are perhaps panicking is just to treat pharmacy staff with respect so they can deliver the nation’s medicine.”

Sussex-based Kamsons Pharmacy chemist Mark Donaghy said he had received reports of young staff members being abused.

“All pharmacies have been inundated recently. Some have received two weeks’ of prescriptions in one day,” he said.

“We have had reports of young pharmacy staff being sworn at and abused by patients this last week.

“If someone is isolating we can empathise with their frustration and the lack of appreciation of how busy these last few days have been for pharmacies.

“However, there is no excuse for such appalling behaviour.

“Pharmacies will take a zero tolerance approach to patients who swear or abuse their staff.”

East Sussex pharmacists’ chief Craig McEwan called the abuse “abhorrent and totally unacceptable”.

But he said the vast majority of people had been patient and friendly.

“Tensions are understandably high at the moment, but that does not mean people can come into the pharmacy and abuse the staff,” he said.

“It simply isn’t on.

“Shouting abuse and swearing at staff who are doing their absolute best to keep local residents supplied with medicines is abhorrent and totally unacceptable.

“I would like to thank those who have helped pharmacies by collecting medicines on behalf of their isolating or vulnerable friends, neighbours or family have helped immensely too.”

Pharmacy bosses insist there is enough medicine for all as long as patients order their regular dosage.

But demand has increased dramatically due to some patients ordering medicine ahead of the due date.

In some cases people have ordered medicines they have not needed for some time “just in case”.

And others have attempted to stockpile.

“It’s a bit like toilet rolls but medicines aren’t toilet rolls,” Sussex pharmacy chief Mr Wood said.

“The message to patients is just to order what you normally need. There is certainly no need to stockpile.

“Stockpiling will only cause problems.”

The veteran chemist said pharmacies were changing the way they operate to ensure patients get their medicine.

“Some may close their doors at certain times of the day just to allow teams to safely catch up with backlogs and clean the shop,” Mr Wood said.

“Some might be restricting the supply of some products to ensure there’s enough to go around.

“Some pharmacies might be smaller than others and will tell people to queue outside.

“It’s in the interest of everybody that this happens.

“As Italy shows, we’re going to be one of the only services open as things get more serious, so we’re on the frontlines like never before.”

Mr Wood said there were four things patients could do to release pressure on pharmacies.

“First, if you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, do not go the pharmacy. Go online to NHS 111 instead,” he said.

“The second is be patient and understanding. The third is to respect pharmacy staff.

“Finally, please order prescriptions as normal.”

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