An uncertain future

question mark

Community pharmacy has repeatedly shown its value as the front line of health in 2020, so why are there question marks over its future, asks Catherine Bronger

I’m a very proud community pharmacist. I come from a family of pharmacists and indeed grew up under the dispensary. I know and love my profession intimately and the passion for where our future lies rumbles deep within me.

That is why I almost vomited at the feet of a top adviser to one of the highest offices when he tutted and told me not to worry my pretty little head about the role pharmacists could play in this COVID-19 crisis – when it was on the cusp of emerging in Australia – because pharmacists would make millions from it….

When supermarkets were ramping up the media over the panic of stockpiling for toilet paper reeling in the cash, we were out there advocating for a one-month supply of medicines.

Indeed, community pharmacists across the country had already implemented this well before the Health Minister made the announcement that “pharmacists fell into line”. We didn’t fall into line. We led the charge and boy; did we cop some abuse for it. We led the charge because we are healthcare providers with scruples. We know stockpiling of medicine is dangerous and unnecessary. We also know that the most vulnerable are the ones who suffer. We copped abuse but we stood firm because it was the right thing to do.

Standing tall

I have never stood taller and prouder than in recent weeks when standing beside my teams in the face of this adversity. They work tirelessly in a rapidly changing and risky environment with very little regard for themselves – and all for the patients they are dedicated and committed to. In fact, as an owner it is I who have fretted for the safety of my staff, spending many thousands of dollars putting up screens, investing in PPE and implementing social distancing policies and other physical measures to help ensure their safety.

These are not the actions of a money hungry retailer but those of a concerned owner who has the responsibility of keeping my staff safe and well. But where is the support to essential small business that is pharmacy to keep the workforce operating? Does the Government not understand that loss of service that will occur if the only community frontline health service is crippled with sickness and forced to partially close. If you want to know, look to the UK. It’s happening there.

The telehealth disaster

We get no protection, yet the Government buckled under the pressure of GPs who seem to forget the reason that they trained was to see sick patients. Doctors who are now hiding behind telehealth while the Government backtracks and offers danger money in desperation to keep some doctors seeing patients. We and our staff are being treated with no such consideration, offered no protection, yet the sick are being funnelled out of medical centres and into pharmacies in droves.

Telehealth has been a disaster to pharmacy over the past few days. The immense problems of how patients access their scripts was flippantly ignored and costs us dearly in increased workload and workarounds. We have yet to see what these impacts truly mean for community pharmacy and are only a taste of what electronic prescriptions will bring but that’s tomorrow’s story.

Today I’m telling the story of a government that has no regard for what we do because it suits them. A government that openly announced a delivery service through community pharmacy that will cost us, small businesses on the frontline, to deliver. It was announced at $5, less than an Uber, until logistics companies refused to do it for under cost only then was raised by a mere $2.77. Which is still not enough; once more we are being told to do more for less.

A lack of acknowledgement

We are healthcare professionals and we can play a much greater role. With access to NIP and funding in line with nurse practitoners we could vaccinate the Australian population against this season’s flu. Now the RACGP has called for early vaccinations, just as the NIP stock hits the medical centres.

But you can’t give a flu vaccine by telehealth, and by the very nature of moving to telehealth medical centres are dangerous places to be right now. Just ask the GPs. We have not asked to hide behind a telephone – we are ready willing and able to help,

But why are we busting our guts? We have had no acknowledgement of the role we play. But most disturbingly we have no certainty after June. The entire network has been given no security and no agreement. That is how little regard they have for us and it is also the real reason we are being positioned as retailers – it is little more than the Government’s negotiation tactic.

These childish tactics must end. Playing our role now is too important. Australian lives and the safety of our staff depend on it.

Catherine Bronger is a Pharmacy Guild NSW branch committee member and a national Guild councillor



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