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It’s time to end the exclusion of pharmacy when it comes to recognising the profession’s role in managing emergencies, writes one pharmacy leader

In this week’s edition of Guild newsletter Forefront, executive director Suzanne Greenwood writes that the challenges faced by Australians in 2020 – from bushfires to storms and the COVID-19 pandemic – have “again underscored” the role pharmacy plays in such emergencies and disasters.

Ms Greenwood writes that pharmacy has risen to this challenge, as well as dealing with increased workloads, “and the need to rapidly adapt systems and workflows to address issues stemming from panic buying of medicines, medicine shortages, telehealth image-based prescriptions, social distancing and physical restriction measures, heightened infection control procedures, sourcing personal protective equipment for staff and the public, and the high demand for influenza vaccinations”.

“They have been on the end of verbal and physical abuse in trying to uphold restrictions and measures put in place by the Government regulations,” she writes.

“They have been coming to work each day amongst fears for their own, and their families’ health and safety.

“But for all that, believe it or not, these pharmacies and their staff are not formally recognised as being part of the healthcare response to emergencies and disasters.

“Whatever the historical reasons for this exclusion, now is the time to correct it and include, and recognise the community pharmacy network as essential to the nation’s response to disasters and emergencies in ensuring continued access to medicines and primary healthcare services.

“In addition, they must be recognised as a source of education, advice and reassurance for all Australians during such times.”

Ms Greenwood highlights the Guild’s submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have made a number of recommendations including that community pharmacists be formally recognised to be involved in national emergency and disaster planning and preparedness, and response and recovery measures,” she writes.

“Supporting this argument, we only need look at how pharmacies have responded to the pandemic and the recent bushfires.

“Pharmacists have expert knowledge in medicines and medicines management, that under the right framework, can significantly improve health outcomes and quality of life for individuals during an emergency or disaster.

“To help prepare for future emergencies, community pharmacies can provide real-time information on the ground and in their communities to key decision makers to effectively plan responses.  

“For example, community pharmacies can provide regular updates on medicine supply, logistical requirements, including transport and storage of medicines, and the availability and personal protective equipment shortages, which will help better prepare for a crisis before it occurs. 

“Pharmacists can also provide this information during an emergency situation, so the medicine and equipment responses can be targeted at the communities that need them most.”

Ms Greenwood highlights another recommendation: that community pharmacists and pharmacy support staff be recognised as frontline and essential primary healthcare providers providing a critical role and value to the health system.

“For instance, in the current pandemic, we have some 80,000 people working on the frontline in community pharmacies, ensuring continued access to medicines, and essential primary care health services and medicine management programs,” she writes.

“But the lack of recognition means they have not received the support or protection of other primary care workers leaving them, at times, exposed, abused, overwhelmed with workload and workflow changes, and feeling undervalued as a part of the health system, with little recognition that they are health care workers.”

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