The madness of light sentencing for those who repeatedly rob pharmacists and threaten their staff must end now, writes Fintan Moore

In my March 2018 article, I recounted a tale which illustrated the laughable state of the justice system in this country. To briefly recap, my pharmacy was raided by a lone scumbag with a hammer in early 2017 on a day when only female staff were working. He threatened to “bust open” their heads if they didn’t co-operate, before leaving with some cash and drugs. We had a decent photo of him, so we asked around and were able to provide the gardaí with his name. He was arrested but released on bail, and his trial did not take place until a year later in January 2018, at which point he received a fully-suspended sentence, letting him walk free from the court.  So far, so bad, but it gets worse.

Predictably, given the absence of any consequences, he didn’t reform his behaviour, so he proceeded to carry out four raids on three different pharmacies, robbing one of them twice in the space of two months. He was armed with a knife each time. The four raids took place between July 2018 and February 2019, and he was eventually convicted and jailed in November 2019. The sentencing judge sentenced him to six years in jail, so we can expect to see him back in circulation in about half that time.

He did apologise in court, and his barrister explained that he was addicted to crack cocaine at the time, but personally I’m sick to the back teeth with these stories of guys who were ‘off their head’ while committing crimes. When the day comes that some junkie runs in wearing a tutu, high heels and an Indian head-dress while brandishing an ice cream cone in a threatening way, and using interpretative dance to explain that he wants the contents of the CD safe, I’ll accept that he was ‘off his head’. In reality, when they’re compos mentis enough to bring a weapon, then they know what they’re doing and should be sentenced accordingly to protect pharmacy staff from the terror of being raided and the possibility of much worse happening.

Swinging Time

A minor point worth adding here is that the sensible course of action in the event of a robbery is to comply with the demands of the raider and wait for the gardaí to arrive.  It is advisable to never confront the raider yourself. However, if you think you might ignore this advice in the heat of the moment, then make sure you are armed appropriately.  There will be no runner-up prize, so don’t daisy around waving anything lightweight.  Assume that merely hurting a raider will not be enough, and that you need to decommission him on impact. That’s just my amateur opinion, but remember, folks — it’s better to wait for the professionals.

Simply, Simon

We’ve heard a lot of self-congratulatory plaudits from the Government over the last couple of years. Supposedly, the economy is booming, the financial crisis is over, and they have a plan for everything that needs fixing. Unwinding of FEMPI has already started for some groups, and ‘pay restoration’ is the phrase of the day for the big trade unions. Pharmacists were promised that we would be refunded some of the fees taken under the FEMPI legislation, and there were hopes for increases to reflect the rising costs of doing business, especially for wages and regulatory compliance. So the news that we were instead getting hit with a cumulative €60 million fee cut came a bit out of left field.

Each of the three facets of this cut is nasty in a different way. The removal of the High Tech not-dispensed patient care fee augurs badly for any future scheme relating to patient treatment rather than dispensing. The change downward in the number of items payable each month at the higher-rate dispensing fee will disproportionately hurt smaller pharmacies. And the flat-rate monthly fee for phased dispensing ignores the level of work involved in phasing. It is also illogical to cut the phased dispensing fee payment before giving more time to see if the number of phased patients is reducing with the increased approval bureaucracy being required of GPs.

At time of writing, a decision by the Minister for Health Simon Harris is pending on whether or not to approve these cuts. He has been lobbied and informed, so he knows what’s involved here. These cuts are blatantly unfair, and we are being targeted excessively. If Simon gives the green light to the HSE to take this €60 million, then the only satisfaction left to me will be to blame him for every problem that I possibly can. 

A silver lining of Brexit will be the associated shortage of various medications. A sample menu of Simon’s failings will include:

HRT shortages: ‘Sorry about this, Mrs Murphy — we can’t get the stock because Simon Harris hasn’t done anything to maintain supplies.  It’s awful really. It might be different if he was a woman!’

Tamoxifen shortage: ‘Sorry about this, but Simon Harris hasn’t done anything to arrange alternatives. It’s not like this Government cares much about patients, so it’s no surprise.’

Medical card renewal delays: ‘Sure, loads of people are having problems with their cards — Simon’s had years to sort out the system but I’m sure he doesn’t need a medical card himself, so he’s in no rush!’

Colder-than-normal winter: ‘Sure, it’s all down to climate change — I blame Simon Harris, myself — it’s all the hot air he talks leading to more global warming.’

You may regard all this as petty and vindictive, and you are quite correct, but that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy it. I like to think it worked for the PDs! λ