2020: Pharmacists equal to the challenge

While a year of immense challenge, 2020 has raised pharmacy’s profile and opened up new opportunities of practice for the profession, says PSA national president Chris Freeman

In the next of our series of columns from leaders of the profession, PSA national president, A/Prof Chris Freeman, looks back at 2020, and looks at what may lay ahead for the profession.

The past year has tested our profession like never before and it fills me with a profound sense of pride to see pharmacists from all sectors equal to the challenge.

Beyond the adversity 2020 has also brought significant change and great advances for pharmacists caring for the public.

In January, we saw heroic efforts by pharmacists in caring for their communities during the bushfire crisis which swept down the eastern seaboard from Southern Queensland to South Australia. This resulted in unprecedented demand on pharmacists working in multiple settings but especially in community pharmacy.

I heard many stories and first-hand examples of pharmacists going above and beyond in their support of their communities whether that be staying open in the face of danger to ensure patients receive vital medicines or delivering medicines via boat to areas that were cut-off by road due to the fires.

This has no doubt had a lasting impact on many of our colleagues. I am proud how PSA has supported our members through dedicated mental health support training so that pharmacists could lift up their local communities.

Dispensing discussion

It was PSA and other pharmacy organisations working tirelessly to have continued dispensing arrangements expanded, and in ensuring medicines were delivered to areas of need. The entire pharmacy sector worked in unison to support pharmacists on the ground.

In a year like no other it was not long after the bushfire crisis that we were confronted by the global pandemic of COVID-19.

I am so proud to see how pharmacists across Australia have adapted, innovated and provided inspiration to their colleagues while at the same time caring for their community.

Our workforce has endured panic buying, hoarding and abuse while trying to keep safe, also keeping up with regulatory changes from all levels of Government at a frenetic pace.

Through rapid adoption of digital image prescribing, and then electronic prescriptions, to telehealth arrangements and home delivery services, pharmacists, went above and beyond in minimising the health impacts of COVID-19.  

I have received wide praise for PSA being the knowledge broker through our dedicated COVID19 microsite so that our profession could keep pace and adapt accordingly.

I am proud that PSA helped to drive a number of these initiatives including remuneration for home delivery of medicines, and expansion of that program, telehealth arrangements and supporting e-prescription adoption through our support centre.

Ensuring pharmacy’s involvement

While pharmacists have had to contend with so much adversity in 2020, this has also been a year of reflection with the PSA providing key submissions on behalf of the profession to the Royal Commissions into Aged Care, Disability Care, and the Productivity Commission review into mental health.

Pharmacists, as medicines experts need to be utilised better by the health care system and through our advocacy and submissions we have ensured pharmacists are heard, considered and involved in how people are cared for in the future.

The findings from these reviews will shape the health landscape for the decade to come. The Australian Government’s 10-year primary health care plan, and the National Preventive Health Strategy provide an opportunity for pharmacists to be critically involved in determining the health of the nation into the future.

This has highlighted to me the critical need for the pharmacy profession to have a whole of workforce strategy which models the future needs from our profession.

We need to understand future training, education, supply and demand requirements and context these with new and evolving areas of practice and national policy directions. An outcome must be a clear path to improving pharmacist remuneration so that pharmacists are paid commensurate to their training, skills, and responsibility within the health system.

It also cannot be forgotten that this year in June the 7th Community Pharmacy Agreement was signed by the Commonwealth, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and for the first time the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. Building on the important work that PSA has delivered in medicines safety, the agreement sets a platform for greater responsibility and accountability for medicines safety by pharmacists.

I am immensely proud of the contribution each and every pharmacist has made to the health and wellbeing of Australians over the past 12 months. It has been a year of immense challenge – and pharmacists have been equal to it.

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