Why you need to plan for trouble


Over the Australia Day long weekend, our pharmacy was broken into. And we had no contingency plan, writes Samantha Kourtis

Every pharmacy in Australia needs to have a contingency plan for when things go wrong: whether that’s a break-in, a fire, a flood – anything that means your ability to trade has been compromised.

I learned this the hard way.

On Australia Day, the Charnwood Capital Chemist was meant to open at 9am. We had people expecting to be able to pick up their medicines, their Webster-paks, their methadone. But overnight, the pharmacy had been broken into.

Police told us that they had no idea when we could open, because their forensics team hadn’t arrived yet. And I had no contingency plan.

Because it was a public holiday, people were coming to us because their regular pharmacy was closed, and they knew we’d be open. We had advertised on Facebook that we’d be open from 9am to 9pm.

And so very quickly, we had to work something out.

I was confident that we would be able to open by 9 that night, when we were originally meant to close, but I couldn’t really tell our patients anything. And that included those patients who were my primary concern: our methadone and suboxone patients. Deciding what to do in their case was tricky, because you can’t just transfer methadone to another location.

In the end I rang the police back and explained the situation to them. I explained that the pharmacy didn’t have a contingency plan for this, and the only way I could handle it was to relocate my methadone dosing to an area just inside the front doors, corner it off and allow them in, along with patients who were picking up medication that had already been prepared and was ready to collect.

It took a bit of explaining, but the police decided that we could do this as long as we didn’t allow anyone to touch anything inside the pharmacy.

We got through it. But the incident taught me that pharmacies really need to have worked out what to do before something like this happens.

Because I had remote access to my computers, I could get to patient records, but if that had been compromised, we would have been purely going off patient requests, people saying, “I was meant to pick up my Lipitor”.

It’s important to have a good relationship with at least one local pharmacy – if there is one – in order to be able to send your patients to them if you can.

And it’s important to have contact with somebody in a legislative role, to find out what is expected of us in unforeseen circumstances. This was the case during the 2003 Canberra bushfires, when people were evacuated to Erindale College and I was working at the closest community pharmacy.

We had people coming in saying, “These are the tablets I take, I need my medication,” and we knew we were able to supply them, because the ACT Chief Health Officer had given us the go-ahead. A lot was done with no expectation of getting scripts back.

I know contingency plans are outlined in QCPP – but we only completed it in theory. Our plan wasn’t able to be applied in practice because it was a public holiday! That’s another thing pharmacies need to ensure they’ve done correctly. The Guild has provided the template; we need to do our part.

Our break-in was only an inconvenience. But it highlighted the need to have answers ready and waiting, just in case there’s a next time.

Samantha Kourtis’ pharmacy, Charnwood Capital Chemist, was the 2014 Pharmacy of the Year. She was also named ACT Telstra Businesswoman of the Year 2014.

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