‘Slap in the face’ at the border

stop sign

“Glaring unintended consequences” of the NSW-Victoria border closure are impacting pharmacy workers who have been unable to travel to their place of work

Anthony Tassone, Victorian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild, told the AJP that Guild members and their staff who reside in or need to travel to just outside a defined “border zone” are unable to do so without having to quarantine for 14 days.

As outlined in a recent Guild update, changes were made to eligibility criteria for permits and there has been a redefinition of the term “border zone,” impacting many Guild members.

Those who are designated “non-border zone residents” can come under an exemption, but only if they “provide a critical service” – and while hospital pharmacy is included in this definition of “critical,” community pharmacy is not.

He said that an ABC report into the consequences of these changes to the Wangaratta hospital illustrated the unintended problems caused by the changes.

According to the report, 80 staff who commute to the hospital from NSW did not go to work the day after the changes were implemented, because they would have had to quarantine upon going home. Interim CEO of Northeast Health Wangaratta Tim Griffiths said the organisation and staff only found out about the changes when they were unable to register for an exemption under the new system.

Mr Tassone noted that hospital pharmacists had been granted some exemptions, but the same consideration had not been extended to community pharmacists.

“Whilst it is understandable that the NSW government takes measures to protect members of the community from their state, there are glaring unintended consequences of the NSW/Victoria border closure that could potentially have serious consequences on healthcare in communities nearby to the border, and the livelihoods of pharmacists and pharmacy staff that may actually reside in NSW,” he told the AJP.

 “The fact that hospital pharmacists, but not community pharmacists have been given exemption from the Border order is a massive slap in the face to the tirelessly working community pharmacy teams on both sides of the NSW/Victoria border. 

“Pharmacists that are at the front line in patient facing roles are critical. Full stop. Not just hospital pharmacists, but also absolutely community pharmacists.

 “We are already being contacted by a number of members spreading across Northern Victoria (e.g. Rochester, Shepparton and Wangaratta) whose staff are not able to travel to their pharmacies and caught out by this bizarre anomaly. 

“These are communities already stretched and challenged by rural health workforce shortages without a state government telling their teams they’re not considered ‘critical’ enough to be given rights of passage to and from their employ.

“Community pharmacists and their teams have continued to turn up day in day out throughout the COVID pandemic, and in some of these affected communities – during the bushfire crisis earlier in the year, doing whatever they could to look after their communities.

“We call upon the NSW government to urgently review this Border order and include pharmacists on the front line – not just hospital pharmacists, in the exemption from their Border order.”

The Guild is urging members to contact their local state MP and raise the issue for community pharmacy to be included in the exception, as is hospital pharmacy.

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