When disaster strikes

Bushfires hit houses on the south coast of NSW. Photo: Mark Naunton/Supplied.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has called for formal recognition of the need for community pharmacists to be involved in disaster recovery and relief efforts

This involvement would include planning, preparation and response, says the Guild, in its submission to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.

In its submission the Guild highlighted the key role pharmacists played in helping manage crises stemming from this year’s disastrous bushfire season.

“The 2019-20 bushfire season caused significant damage and disruption, and the health system was under increased strain,” the Guild says.

“Pharmacists, as frontline health professionals, played a vital role in ensuring patients received the medication and advice they needed to get them through the crisis, often under stressful, trying and difficult conditions and circumstances.

“In order to help shape future national natural disaster planning, preparation, response and recovery efforts, we need to better utilise all the features of Australia’s health system, including pharmacists.”

It cited the example of Andrew White, a community pharmacist from Batehaven, on NSW’s badly affected South Coast.

“Despite a total loss of power to his pharmacy and with the assistance of torches provided by the police, Andrew and his staff worked tirelessly through the night to pack and personally deliver approximately 600 medication packs for people stranded in nursing homes, hospitals and evacuation centres on the following day,” the Guild says.

“Andrew also set up a makeshift consultation booth outside his pharmacy, providing free medication and advice to around 90 evacuees, and worked with them to supply their usual medicines if they didn’t have a script.

“Other pharmacists resorted to using sailing boats and jet skis to ensure patients cut off by the bushfires received their medicine.

“These are just some of the many examples of how the community pharmacy network continued to provide frontline healthcare and services to patients and the community during the bushfire season, where healthcare services were often scarce.”

It also highlighted the importance of community pharmacy in ensuring continuity of medicines supply to patients in such emergencies, including in emergency supply.

“If it hadn’t been for the temporary expansion of the emergency supply provisions and of Continued Dispensing, we would have seen more trips to already stretched hospital emergency departments or more tragic circumstances,” the Guild says.

“The Guild is committed to working with all governments, agencies, stakeholders and community groups through the provision of pharmacy services to work toward a swift recovery for those communities affected by this disaster,” the submission states.

Other recommendations in the submission include:

  • The expansion of Continued Dispensing and complementary emergency supply arrangements to be made a permanent feature of Australia’s health system;
  • A community pharmacist representative to be included in national natural disaster taskforces or commissions;
  • The immediate inclusion of a community pharmacist representative in future national disaster response and recovery working groups, and incident/emergency operations centres as required.

The submission notes that the Guild is committed to working with other healthcare professionals, stakeholders, community organisations, and all levels of Government in Australia to improve safe and quality healthcare services and health infrastructure that aim to support all Australians, including in times of crisis or disaster.

The Guild’s full submission can be read here.

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1 Comment

  1. Karalyn Huxhagen

    I have been part of disaster relief committees when the times are reasonable e.g. planning for bird flu, cyclones and possible tsunamis. When it came down to critical times the committee always shrunk down to police plus hospital plus local council and I was no longer utilised. we saw amazing teamwork by pcists in Townsville, Mackay and Cairns for cyclones, southern states for bushfires and SE Qld for flooding. We need to be able to be included in the central control for when the disaster strikes or else we will be left again and again to use our own network of friends and colleagues to support our patients

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