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Abuse on social media


Abuse on social media

When patients post rants of industrial grade poisonous venom about pharmacists on social media, it amounts to yet another form of the abuse, says Terry Maguire


From the dispensary, I was conscious that the shy teenager I knew well had been shopping for a long time – perhaps 30 minutes – before gingerly approaching the counter to pay and ask for her mum’s medicines.

It was late Friday afternoon and it had been a busy day. Staff could not locate any medicine bag nor was there any recent record on the PMR, so they deferred to me. From the dispensary, I confirmed no prescriptions had arrived and she asked me to check again as her GP was certain it had been sent across. And if not, could I lend her mum enough for the weekend?

Nothing had arrived, so I explained, as I had many times before, that these are controlled drugs and lending is not possible. Unhappy, she purchased some co-codamol effervescent before leaving.

So, I was unsurprised when, just before closing, I got a phone call from her mum. What did surprise me was the tsunami of verbal abuse coming down the phone. I had, she claimed, been physically aggressive and verbally abusive to her daughter and how dare I do that.

Her daughter was so distressed following my outburst that she had to be consoled by the taxi driver who, while doing so, confirmed how people generally disliked me. I took a moment to make sense of what I was hearing. Keeping my calm, I told her that what she claimed had not taken place and my staff, and if necessary CCTV, would confirm this.

“Good,” she said, insisting her solicitor would be demanding the CCTV as evidence. Absence of audio was no deterrent as he employed a lip-reading specialist. The afternoon had now taken a surrealist twist. I then told her bluntly that it had been a busy day and I had no time for this nonsense and I hung up.

But I was unprepared for what happened next. When I arrived home, my daughter, who manages our pharmacy’s Facebook account, phoned me. The mum had tried to post two pages of accusations ranging from my incompetence as a pharmacist, my well-known aggression with customers and my obvious misogyny.

My daughter sent me a screenshot of the post which amounted to a stream-of-consciousness rant of industrial grade poisonous venom. The mum was reporting me to everyone from Childline to the Minister of Health but given the current collapse of our democratic institutions at Stormont, I assumed she meant the Secretary of State. Anyhow, the post was successfully blocked and does not seem to have appeared elsewhere on social media.

Another colleague was not so lucky. About a year ago, he was the subject of a malign and sustained social media campaign. He similarly refused to supply medicines to a problem patient in the absence of a prescription.

My colleague was legally and ethically right and only doing his job, yet the content of this post on a popular social media website caused him considerable embarrassment and severe anxiety. He approached the pharmacy’s owner for help but was told he should write a letter of apology as the post might damage the business.

The mum in my incident has form. We foolishly, at the request of her GP, inherited her when she spectacularly fell out with another pharmacy. We were cautious, firm and professional in all our dealings, accepting that, at some time, things would go wrong for us.

Patients, dependent on prescription medicines, have a particular problem with insight to their drug abuse, much more so than those dependent on illicit drugs, although most are now on a combination of both. Because the GP writes a prescription, this confirms a medical justification.

Faced with the possibility of withdrawal over a weekend, I can appreciate why these patients become angry, unhinged and aggrieved but why should the pharmacy suffer abuse as a result?

Of course, the daughter too might become a subject of abuse. She knew that the prescription was unlikely to be in the pharmacy and she would have feared the consequences when she arrived home without it.

This explains the loitering in the pharmacy, the purchase of co-codamol and the deflection of attention to my alleged abusive behaviour. I’ve known this gentle and timid young woman since she was toddler and if what I had to suffer caused her less abuse from mum, then, on reflection, I am happy with that.

However, the attempted social media exposé was completely unacceptable. Sadly, it was just another form of the abuse.


Terry Maguire is a leading pharmacist based in Northern Ireland.



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