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Pharmacists stabbed in daylight drugs robbery

A PSNI crime scene investigator takes pictures inside James McDonagh Pharmacy on the Falls Road following yesterday morning's robbery. Picture by Mal McCann
Paul Ainsworth

The stabbing of two pharmacists during an attempted robbery in west Belfast comes as the demand for prescription drugs to abuse grows ever higher, it has been warned.

The two chemists, one aged in his 40s, the other in his 50s, were attacked at the Falls Road premises of James McDonagh Pharmacy shortly after 9.30am yesterday.

During the altercation, the older of the two victims – understood to be locum pharmacist Peter Wright - was stabbed in the chest, while owner Paul McDonagh suffered blade injuries to his arm.

Staff managed to restrain the alleged attacker until police arrived, and the two victims were taken to hospital for treatment.

A spokesperson for the Belfast Health Trust said the two men were “stable”, while the PSNI said a 26-year-old suspect detained at the scene was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and attempted robbery. He remained in police custody last night.

As police investigated at the scene, a relative of one of the victims told the Irish News that the prescription drug Tramadol had been demanded during the incident.

“I was shocked to learn what happened, but thankfully the injuries to both men are not life-threatening,” she said.

“The shop has been robbed before, but this is the first time such violence was used.”

Local Sinn Féin councillor Steven Corr said the community was “stunned” to learn of an attack on a popular business.

“These two men got up for a day's work and within hours they are in hospital with knife wounds, it's appalling,” he said.

“Their bravery of the staff in the face of this attack is to be commended, and the fact that it was carried out in broad daylight at a busy time of the morning makes it all the more shocking.

“The massive increase in prescription drug abuse is the bane of west Belfast, and we need to invest in more programmes to combat this problem.”

Meanwhile, according to the Pharmacy Forum NI, the incident was just one of hundreds of violent acts against healthcare staff across the North each year.

Last August, another West Belfast pharmacy was targeted in a robbery in which staff were threatened with a knife.

During that incident at the Andersonstown Road premises, a man demanded drugs and money before being restrained by staff, a number of whom suffered non-life threatening injuries.

Chairperson Sheelin McKeagney said community pharmacists were particularly vulnerable and her organisation would be consulting with police to discuss security improvements.

“This is shocking news and my I hope that they make a full and quick recovery,” she said of the victims.

“Frontline healthcare staff face the risk of violence and abuse on a daily basis. This is no different for pharmacists in a community pharmacy setting and today's attack clearly illustrates this fact.

“Pharmacists are highly skilled and capable professionals who provide invaluable care and services.

“It is vitally important they are able to work in an environment where they can deliver high quality care without intimidation or fear of abuse and violence.

Describing a “zero tolerance” against abusive behaviour and violence by health trusts, Ms McKeagney continued: “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, I will be seeking talks with the PSNI and the Department of Health to examine how pharmacists can improve their personal security and that of their staff.”

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