Pharmacy’s good work ‘can be undone’ without self-care

pharmacist sneezes

Early results from a new Australian survey show how likely people are to conceal COVID-19-like symptoms from their employer or colleagues

The survey, led by Professor Terry Haines of the Monash University School of Primary and Allied Health Care, has to date analysed 1,500 responses after it was launched last month.

It found that 24% of respondents are likely to conceal a cough from people at their place of work, 13% are likely to conceal a fever, 50% would conceal sneezing and 65% would conceal diarrhea.

Prof Haines said that the study aims to find out who is most likely to hide common symptoms of COVID-19, such as cough and fever, as well as unrelated symptoms, like sneezing and diarrhea.

“One in four survey respondents are indicating that they would be unlikely or extremely unlikely to notify relevant people at their place of work if they develop a cough,” Prof Haines said.

“This number drops to one in eight if the symptom developed is a fever, however, this still represents a concerning number of people who may be undertaking work while ill and not notifying their employer, family or friends.”

Surprisingly, people in more insecure modes of employment, such as casual workers, are not more likely to conceal their illness than those in permanent employment with access to sick leave.

As for health care workers, they are setting the example, Prof Haines said: respondents in this sector have 40% lower odds of concealing a cough or fever symptoms from relevant people at their place of work. 

Prof Haines said that as Australia begins to loosen its social distancing restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of re-emergence of the virus remains ever present. 

It is crucial to the health of Australia and each individual returning to work to play their part in restricting the spread of the COVID-19 by staying home when sick, he said. 

“We don’t know who could contract COVID-19 next. So we need to have a mindset that everyone we deal with at work is a potential patient or has a close contact at home who could become one,” Prof Haines said.

“We have a responsibility to show care for those people. It is okay to let people at work know that you are not okay, regardless of whether you are a casual employee, a volunteer, a CEO, or a Prime Minister.”

Anthony Tassone, Victorian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild, said in response that while community pharmacies have been exemplary on the frontline of healthcare for their patients, “We can’t look after others if we do not look after ourselves first and foremost”.

“The Australian public have for the most part done a great job in following directives from our Chief Health and Medical officers in terms of social distancing, good hand hygiene and self-isolation,” he said.

“But this good work can be undone in part if we don’t take care of ourselves when we’re unwell and present to work where we can potentially pass infection on to patients and co-workers.

“There is evidence across the health system of lower presentations of patients for care and checkups during the COVID-19 pandemic, and if health professionals themselves are visibly unwell – this may risk this downward trend further.”

Mr Tassone said the fact that pharmacies have continued to keep their doors open during the COVID pandemic has been significant to ensure continuity of patient care and ongoing access to essential medicines. 

“It is critical that we do what we can to prevent a pharmacy potentially having to close its doors to patients,” he said.

“The Guild is committed in assisting and guiding our members as to employee entitlements for leave under industry awards and any relevant employment agreements.”

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