A risk management focus emerges as the Queensland COVID testing pilot draws closer – and one pharmacy leader says new GP criticisms are simply more “Chicken Little” rhetoric
Queensland Health has revealed that the state’s controversial pharmacy COVID-19 testing pilot will see the service offered only to existing customers who purchase products for cold and flu-type symptoms.
Five pharmacies around the state have volunteered to be part of the pilot project, which was announced in August 2020.
“Engagement ahead of any tests being conducted is underway,” a Queensland Health spokesperson told the AJP.
“Queensland Health is working with each pharmacy individually to adapt the service model to their workflows.
“This is to ensure that the service is conducted in a way that maximises staff and patient safety without disrupting the pharmacy’s service delivery,” the spokesperson said.
“The pilot is due to commence in the coming months and commencement dates among the five pharmacies will be staggered.
“Pharmacies will not commence offering the service until all the pilot requirements are met.”
In order to minimise risk, participating pharmacies will not actually be operating as COVID-19 testing clinics, and will not be able to advertise the service.
Under the proposed testing model, customers will not be able to directly request a COVID-19 test.
Instead, participating pharmacies will be able to offer a test to customers who request a product used for the relief of upper respiratory symptoms – potential symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
The state’s Department of Health will not publicly name the participating pharmacies at any stage of the pilot, to ensure that only incidental encounters are captured and customers do not actively seek a COVID-19 test at the locations.
However, it has revealed that they will be located in several regions: Townsville HHS, Cairns and Hinterland HHS, West Moreton HHS and Metro North HHS.
Doctors again strongly criticised the pilot.
RACGP Vice-President and Chair of RACGP Queensland Dr Bruce Willett told newsGP that the pilot “makes no sense at all”.
“A pharmacy is not a safe place to be doing COVID tests; they’re retail settings. Many – in fact, most of them – are in shopping centres,” he told the GP publication’s Anastasia Tsirtsakis.
“So you’re asking people who are potentially infected to walk through crowded shopping areas and have their tests in a retail space.
“Obviously there is some benefit to the pharmacist in that they’re hoping people will buy things as they walk past the shelves on the way in and out.
“But from a public health point of view, it’s certainly not worth it.”
Dr Willett criticised the Pharmacy Guild, saying it sees the pilot as “a business opportunity while transmission is low,” and said all pharmacists he had spoken to disagreed with the project.
newsGP cited a September 2020 poll published by the AJP which showed 69% of readers felt the pilot would put staff and the public at risk, 40% said they were not paid enough to participate and 30% said pharmacists did not have the training to conduct such tests.
Last year the PSA and PPA also expressed concerns about COVID testing in pharmacy.
But the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Queensland branch president Trent Twomey told the AJP on Tuesday that over the years, GPs had criticised a number of new pharmacy services which have since proven to be a success.
“Unfortunately, we’ve heard this sort of ‘Chicken Little’ rhetoric from the doctors’ lobby before,” Professor Twomey said.
“Many will still remember similar arguments being made against rolling out vaccination programs through community pharmacies.
“These vaccinations have proven to be safe, very popular and successful.
“The decision by the Queensland Government to roll out a trial of COVID testing in five pharmacies, who have volunteered to be part of the trial, brings Queensland into line with what is already safely happening globally and in other Australian jurisdictions like South Australia,” he said.
“If Queensland’s Chief Medical Officer backs the science of rolling this trial out, that should be good enough for the critics.”