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There will be a relaxation of some of the usual regulations impacting pharmacy alterations during the pandemic, a regulator says 

In its latest communique, the Victorian Pharmacy Authority flagged a range of measures that would operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a rapidly changing situation,” said VPA chair David McConville, as he outlined his agency’s response which would include “key issues regarding the operation of registered premises during the pandemic”.

These measures include the need to restrict pharmacy access and temporary relaxation of some regulations to allow pharmacies to undertake alterations aimed at minimising contact during the crisis.

Pharmacists are encouraged to implement measures to promote social distancing in pharmacies and pharmacy departments (maintain a 1.5m distance between yourself and others), supported by good hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and infection control measures, the VPA advises.

“To minimise contact during the pandemic it may be necessary to limit entry to a pharmacy or access to parts of the pharmacy,” the VPA states.

“It is the Authority’s view that reasonable access may still be provided when measures such as temporary screens, entry barriers, one-way flow of customers and triaged access are in place. Online/telephone communication and supply by delivery may also be utilised”.

Alteration rules relaxation

The VPA said to ensure minimised contact with customers, temporary alterations to registered premises may be required.

To facilitate this, it had loosened guidelines that required “an application for alterations to existing registered premises must be approved by the Authority prior to making significant alterations to a pharmacy or pharmacy department”.

The VPA now advises that “during the pandemic”, applications will not be required for the following types of alterations:

  • alterations to counselling areas including the installation of plastic or Perspex shields (provided that these measures are in place only for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency and adequate arrangements are maintained to ensure patient privacy)
  • alterations affecting public access to the premises such as entry barriers/triaged access during business hours (provided there is no impact on pharmacy security when closed for business)
  • alterations to the perimeter of the registered premises by installing a new opening for triage (provided that the perimeter remains secure and complies with the security requirements of the VPA Guidelines).

“Licensees should note that the establishment of a facility within registered premises for the purpose of providing a vaccination service does not usually require Authority approval (provided there is no impact on the dispensary, pharmacy perimeter, security or counselling areas),” it added.

“The Guidelines also provide the flexibility to establish a temporary facility for vaccination, for example by installing suitable screens”.

Vaccination

The VPA also said it “anticipated that the demand for the flu vaccination will be high this year as it coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic. From 1 May, the flu vaccine will be mandatory for people wanting to visit an aged care facility.

Access to vaccination services from pharmacist immunisers will be crucial during this time as vaccination providers work to minimise the impact of vaccine preventable diseases, especially the flu, on Victoria’s health system as it deals with the stressors of COVID-19 on its workforce and resources”.

Workload

“Licensees should prepare contingencies to manage workload and staffing levels during the COVID-19 pandemic in response to community demand and absenteeism if staff become unwell or are required to stay home to care for family,” the VPA said.

“Increased workloads can contribute to physical and mental exhaustion and an increased risk of incidents. In line with the Pharmacy Board of Australia’s Guidelines for dispensing of medicines, it is vital that barcode scanning is observed as part of good pharmacy practice when dispensing. Compliance is particularly important as pharmacists practise in unprecedented conditions and under high stress levels and the risk of dispensing error increases.

“Licensees could consider a mechanism compliant with social distancing by which pharmacy staff can debrief and implement learnings that can help manage workflow and workload,” it said. 

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