Aggressive behaviour of the public towards pharmacists

Aggressive Behaviour PA image

Aggression towards pharmacists is sometimes used as a bullying tactic by an individual to get their own way in such matters as the early supply of staged supply or the prompt dispensing of a prescription for a restricted drug that requires further checking with a prescriber. Rude and aggressive behaviour is also often displayed towards pharmacy staff who are asking the appropriate questions before providing an S2/S3 medication.

Increasingly, members of PDL have been contacting our support service to get advice on how to handle rude and aggressive behaviour from the public towards pharmacists and their staff. It is apparent from recent media, it is not only pharmacies experiencing this unwarranted abuse, it is occurring in fast food outlets as well as other establishments serving the public.

When faced with rudeness and threatening behaviour from the public, the Pharmacist in Charge should step in to handle and diffuse the situation. Especially where junior and less experienced staff are present. Before an incident arises, ensure your team are briefed properly so staff understand the pharmacy procedure to follow in these situations. The procedure could include immediately requesting a senior pharmacist to intercept with all other staff moving away from the space to minimise the focus and avoid crowd gathering, which could inflame the situation.

Calmly engage the aggressor by informing them that such actions will not be tolerated in the pharmacy. The problem should be de-escalated with rational discussion, avoid raising your voice. Be aware of, and in control of your own body language. Resist the instinctive habit to cross arms or furrow your brow or “stare down” the customer. Remain as neutral and calm as possible. Give the customer plenty of personal space and allow them easy access to an exit. Do not block the exit or try to physically prevent them from leaving the store. Listen, try and be empathetic and don’t interrupt the customer, or cut them off whilst they are airing their grievance. Ask questions to better understand the situation.

If it is not possible to de-escalate the situation through initial calm mediation as handled by the Pharmacist in Charge, the aggressor should be asked to leave the pharmacy and advised that services will not be provided. If a reasonable request to leave the pharmacy is not followed, the consumer should be informed that the police will be called if necessary.

In dealing with a regular customer who is continually abusive and rude, this person should be privately spoken to by the Pharmacist in Charge and informed that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable. Pharmacy staff and other patrons of the pharmacy should not be subjected to loud and confrontational language which can be intimidating and frightening. Such a customer should have explained to them what standard of behaviour is expected in the pharmacy and that future episodes of rudeness will result in this person being banned. It is reasonable to give these problematic consumers a fair warning of what is proposed. As is the case in all incidents occurring in the pharmacy, this action should be documented.

In regional or remote areas, where there may only be one pharmacy providing services, the situation may present further challenges as a troublesome consumer may have been forced to travel some distance to engage pharmacy services. However, this consumer will have themselves to blame, especially if they have previously received direction on what is expected of them and been provided with a warning. In instances as described above, it may be arranged for a carer or a relative to collect pharmacy needs for a banned person.

It is possible that in enforcing a ban on a consumer, a complaint may be made to a pharmacy regulator for denial of pharmacy service. However, providers of medical services such as doctors and pharmacists have a right to refuse to treat persons who have behaved inappropriately in the past. If an official complaint is made in such a case, members of PDL will be provided with expert advice and support in such circumstances.

Call 1300 854 838 if this topic raises any concerns for you. The PDL membership includes 24/7 access to speak with a Professional Officer for immediate advice and incident support, Australia wide. Alternatively, leave a comment or question for our Professional Officers via the blog.