‘Pharmacy has proven it is the champion and cornerstone of primary healthcare.’

Community pharmacist Chrysa Giannellis and her husband Daniel. Credit: Mark Davis Photography

A pharmacist who got married on the cusp of the COVID-19 crisis has been floored by the courage and commitment of her pharmacy colleagues in the face of intense pressure

It seems like our wedding was a lifetime away! We were extremely nervous the week before as we had around 250 people attending our wedding and we weren’t sure if the government was going to enforce restrictions around large gatherings.

The wedding was to be held in Melbourne but my mother-in-law’s family is from Sydney, so we had 80 people travelling from Sydney to Melbourne as well.

Every day we were checking the updates anxiously, but luckily we were still able to have our wedding on the cusp of the crisis. The day itself was one filled with pure joy and happiness – and many espresso martinis!

We knew life would change after marriage, however not quite this much. After we spent our first week as newlyweds in the Maldives – rather than honeymooning in Europe – we had to come back home and go into 14 days of quarantine.

It was the most bizarre moment to come back and not be able to hug your family on arrival at the airport.

During our 14-day lockdown, I completed a 3000-piece puzzle and bought an Italian grammar book so I started teaching myself Italian. At the back of my mind, however, I was anxious about the situation I was going to return to at work. I would often check our work WhatsApp group which gave me an insight into what was going on, and it seemed like chaos.

After the quarantine period ended, I returned to work and I’ve been back at the pharmacy for four weeks now.

There is only one word which describes the pharmacy situation currently – intense. Every day feels like we are fighting an uphill battle. My colleagues and pharmacy staff around Australia are part of a silent overlooked army of humble frontline soldiers dealing with hysteria, fear and uncertainty, whilst we do our best to stay calm ourselves.

This pandemic has certainly shown us the best and worst in our communities. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we all continue to honourably come into work with a smile and humility, determined to serve our community and strive to deliver world-class primary healthcare.

I very quickly came to a disheartening realisation, however, that our extreme efforts in pharmacy seem to consistently be overlooked and unacknowledged by many sectors in leadership.

While other health professionals are closing their doors when it comes to face-to-face patient care, pharmacists are treating more patients than ever, acknowledging the responsibility of stepping up to the call of being the most accessible primary health care providers.

Despite the dangers, community pharmacists and their courageous teams have rallied together to serve our communities selflessly, fundamentally preventing the collapse of our healthcare system.

Patients are scared and nervous about the uncertainty of the current situation. The reassurance that pharmacy will always remain open for them provides our patients comfort during this crisis.

Definitely the greatest change I found in the community since I got married was how frustrated and anxious people have become because of changes that have taken place with many processes within the pharmacy.

Safety measures to protect both ourselves and our patients include creating barriers, plastic sneeze screens at counters, patient flow arrows on the floors determining direction of traffic, hand sanitiser stations for both patients and staff as well as limiting the number of people in the store at once.

Waiting for your script in the pharmacy is a thing of the past, along with chairs for the elderly. Of course, in a medical setting where we are dealing with patients with physical or mental illnesses, this can be extremely challenging to enforce.

During this unprecedented time, I find that while many patients may be concerned due to medication shortages or risks of contracting COVID-19, they also recognise the importance of and are extremely grateful for the work that we do every day.

Pharmacy has proven time and time again that it is the champion and cornerstone of primary healthcare in Australia.

We are vaccinating thousands of patients against influenza.

We are trying to manage an endless list of medication shortages. We are providing mental health first aid on a daily basis due to a spike in mental health crises.

We are trying to practice safely as pharmacy owners take the initiative to source PPE for their staff.

We must keep up to date with the daily legislative changes with regards to pharmacy practice and drug scheduling.

We manage medication for patients who are unable to see their doctors for prescriptions. We are preparing and sending an unprecedented number of deliveries to patients – and not only just their medicine, but any other essential items if they are at home quarantining due to chronic illnesses and mobility restrictions, forcing us to put extra drivers on the roads to meet demands. 

We are dealing with theft, aggressive and abusive patients on a daily basis due to the scarcity of many items. And the list goes on.

I believe this is an iconic time for pharmacy. If its potential is utilised fully, pharmacists could facilitate greater health outcomes and safer lives for our communities whilst easing the burden on our hospitals and GPs. We have seen the beginning of this evolution, as recent changes have begun to increase the scope of practice.

Pharmacy has proven its criticality and resilience in the face of a public health crisis. In order for our primary healthcare infrastructure to be sustainable in future, pharmacists must be granted more responsibility and their scope of practice must grow in order to fulfil the needs of our modern day population.

After all, it shouldn’t take a global pandemic to recognise the potential pharmacists have to flatten the curve.

Chrysa Giannellis is a pharmacist manager in Sydney, NSW.

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