‘We’re worried about our families too:’ Stories from the pharmacy frontline

Veronica Nou
Veronica Nou and Logan

Michael Gray speaks to pharmacists around the country who have faced backlash and who are caring for vulnerable loved ones

Logan is six years old and has a rare autoimmune disease.

He lives with a pharmacist who is on the frontline battling COVID-19, with the pharmacy being situated in the centre of a COVID-19 hotspot near Newmarch House Aged Care Home, in Penrith NSW.

As such, Logan’s mother Veronica Nou, who is a proprietor at Morris Care & Advice Pharmacy, takes all measures necessary to protect her son, who has Kawasaki disease.

From backing away from much needed cuddles to disrobing every evening as she enters the house, Veronica is not unique in having to take special precautions. Like health professionals all over the world, our front-line heroes’ actions are saving lives daily.

Amongst the fears, stress and a complex array of emotions the general public is feeling, our pharmacists and their teams have the extra burden of dealing with a huge workload and demands coming from all angles.

Interim arrangements and changes in Commonwealth legislations are also affecting pharmacy workflow during these unprecedented times.

Understandably, it can be quite overwhelming for pharmacy teams to keep up with all the government announcements and most importantly, implement the changes in the pharmacy as per corresponding State/Territory legislations.

Within the span of just a couple of months, several regulatory changes, funding, and interim arrangements have been made and affects States/Territories differently, including:

  • The use of digital image of prescriptions;
  • Provision of continued dispensing of S4 medications without a prescription in an emergency;
  • The use of alternative quantity, strength, or dose form of a medicine if there are serious shortages announced;
  • Telehealth services; and
  • Funding for Home Medicines Service or delivery arrangements via Australia Post.

At the Advantage Group Support Office, we’re doing everything we can to support our 270 member pharmacies. It is particularly rewarding when member pharmacies acknowledge the support that we provide, through timely supply of information and action points regarding interim legislative changes.

So as of today, where are our pharmacy teams at?

My team at Advantage Group has been talking to several pharmacy owners within the Group over the past weeks to get an inside look into the situation on the ground.

Rania Hanoun, Managing Partner at Chemist Discount Centre Moe said she felt things have settled down a little and not as hectic as it was four weeks ago. She said to us that over the last month, everyone has been under pressure and she could feel the levels of anxiety among her patients.

“Just saying something is out of stock, that you can’t get it in, would trigger their impatience,” Rania said of some patients.

“I asked a man the other day to stand behind the blue line and he said, ‘I hope you get the virus and die.’”

“Most patients have been understanding, but some aren’t at all.”

Rania, who is a carer for her 78-year-old mother at home, feels that pharmacy staff can sometimes not be given enough regard by the public.

“We’re worried about our families too,” she says.

When we talked to Vy Poon at Galston Village Pharmacy many of her comments echoed that of Rania’s.

She dealt with her fair share of aggressive and anxious patients. She said that on a particularly busy day a man relayed his disappointment at not being supplied with Ventolin when he requested it a few days earlier and threatened that he’d make sure her Pharmacy goes out of business.

“This happened a few weeks ago when people were stockpiling asthma puffers and we required proof of diagnosis before they were supplied. He felt like he didn’t need to justify his need for Ventolin,” said Vy.

However, overall, her community has been very supportive of her and her team.

One of her regular patients, who had been there at the time, came back to the pharmacy later on with a bouquet of flowers telling her that she and her team had handled the situation professionally and calmly and that they were doing an amazing job.

In the first couple of weeks of the crisis she said, “my team were emotionally and physically drained. We were beside ourselves.

“I’m still not sleeping well. My team isn’t sleeping well either. It’s still hectic in store and I’m worrying about how to get stock and supplies in.”

With the increasing stress placed on pharmacists during these unprecedented times, it is more important than ever that everyone is putting their mental and physical health as priority.

Peer support and telephone counselling is available 365 days of the year from 8.00am to 11.00pm via the Pharmacists’ Support Service line: 1300 244 910. For more information, visit: https://www.supportforpharmacists.org.au/

Advantage Group would like to extend support to all other pharmacies across Australia, by making available all relevant resources, guides, procedures, and templates surrounding the interim government initiatives during this Covid-19 pandemic. Should you wish to access these resources, please click HERE.

Michael Gray is the Director of Advantage Group.

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