One pharmacy assistant has written to Labor politicians with a plea for better financial support in the vaccine rollout
Sydney pharmacy assistant Eleanor Turnbull has written an open letter to Labor leader Anthony Albanese, and to Labor MP and hospital pharmacist Emma McBride, outlining her concerns about how pharmacies are remunerated for administering the AstraZeneca vaccine.
AJP reproduces her letter in full below.
I’ve worked in a pharmacy for over four years and have always been incredibly proud of our healthcare system. Working in a pharmacy has allowed me to fully appreciate our Medicare system.
Today, however, I’m really disappointed.
Our pharmacy was excited to finally offer the AstraZeneca Vaccine and received our first batch (600 doses), last Thursday. We began within the hour, posting on community pages and contacting people directly. I was amazed and heartened at the turnout, especially from young people.
We’ve vaccinated over 100 people in three and a half days. The issue is, we will struggle to afford to continue.
The process of getting the patient to fill in the form, enter the details on the database and the vaccination itself takes roughly 10 minutes then we have to monitor the patient for 15 minutes.
We have to have at least one extra staff member, and our longstanding customers don’t receive the usual level of service they are used to so I’m worried we will lose business. We vaccinate anyone who is eligible and consents, not just usual patients or return customers (some doctors will only vaccinate existing patients).
On some occasions, I have spent time talking through the consent form with patients who find the wording difficult to understand, as English isn’t their first language. My boss gives detailed and thoughtful information before the vaccination and helps vulnerable members of the community gain access.
Many of our patients may not have had access, for various reasons such as difficulty navigating the NSW Health vaccine registration portal along with woeful communication from the state and federal government.
People trust my boss and realise he cares about them so they are grateful he can administer the vaccine and be a point of contact for any concerns. It worries me to think about how long these people would have remained unvaccinated, if not for the diligence and commitment of my boss.
With at least 15-20 minutes spent on each patient and potentially losing other regular business, 16 dollars per dose potentially won’t even cover the wages.
We’ve worked extended hours and opened on Sunday (usually closed on Sunday) to meet demand, but this will have been at a loss and my boss won’t even pay himself. We receive 26 dollars when the patient returns for their second dose but that doesn’t help us right now.
It makes me so happy when people are vaccinated and I can see that they are relieved. So many people have been thrilled that they didn’t have to use the NSW Health vaccination registration portal as it’s notoriously difficult to navigate, and there are minimal wait times. During the monitoring period, I’ve chatted with patients and many have said they’ve cancelled their initial bookings at vaccination hubs, many of which were months away.
We implemented a quick and easy process, wait times and commutes to vaccine centres are no longer a deterrent. This system is the future but pharmacies like ours are doing the heavy lifting, to make up for the substandard vaccine rollout.
We are essentially making a loss, yet working harder than we’ve ever worked. My colleagues/boss and I have been run off our feet, none of us had a lunch break in the last four days, going 11 hours without a rest. We are all so happy and committed to something as important as these vaccinations.
I’m worried we can’t continue, however, 16 dollars for an approx. 20-minute service won’t keep the lights on. If the government is serious about vaccine accessibility, then pharmacists have to at least break even and be able to pay themselves and their staff.
I would love for people to know of the sacrifices people like my boss are making. I would also like to stress how worried I am that many pharmacies, rightfully so, will opt out of administering vaccinations. People will miss out on getting vaccinated and it shouldn’t be the case when we have such a brilliant healthcare system.
Thank you for taking the time to hear my concerns.
Eleanor Turnbull is a university student and a pharmacy assistant for a Sydney independent pharmacy. She is the daughter of pharmacy media advisor Greg Turnbull.