Frontline health workers will be offered free accommodation to help keep family members safe… but what about community pharmacists?
The move, which includes NSW hospital workers including pharmacists, follows similar measures in other states announced this week, and has been welcomed by pharmacy organisations.
However PSA national president Chris Freeman told the AJP that community pharmacists are already making significant personal sacrifices to help maintain their patients’ access to care and medicines.
The NSW Government announced a $100 million package of “extra measures” this week to support frontline staff in the fight against the disease.
It includes almost $60 million to provide pharmacists, doctors, nurses, paramedics and other hospital and ambulance staff with the option of staying in out-of-home accommodation during the pandemic.
The package will also support medical research and vaccine trials to beat COVID-19, as well as commercialise research products and boost domestic supply chains.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the funding would not only provide support for healthcare workers now but would also give them the resources to tackle COVID-19 head-on in the coming months.
“Nobody should go to work and worry that it will put their families at risk especially when they are working so hard to protect us. This funding is the least we can do to keep healthcare workers and their families safe,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“Our health professionals are among the best in the world and we must do everything we can to help them not just now but also in the weeks and months ahead as we battle this virus.”
Local health districts will work with staff to make sure accommodation is close to work or their families, depending on individual needs.
Chris Freeman told the AJP that he has heard several reports of pharmacists already deciding to live separately to vulnerable loved ones, to help prevent them becoming sick.
“I spoke with a pharmacist who I know quite well, talking about the impact that coronavirus has had on his practice… he works in rural Victoria and he was lucky enough to have a little baby boy in the last few months.
“But unfortunately, the baby has had some health issues. The fellow is in a single-pharmacist pharmacy, so he is in a situation where he has chosen to maintain continuity of care for the patients he serves, by remaining open and doing some extraordinary hours to ensure that’s happening.
“He’s very concerned about the health of his own family, particularly the baby, and has taken the step of actually moving out of his own house and finding temporary accommodation, so in the event he is unfortunate enough to be exposed to COVID-19, he wouldn’t bring that home to his child or his wife.
“He’s now in a situation where he’s working long hours and not able to spend quality time with his family, and making that sacrifice for his community, because he knows that without him opening that pharmacy, it wouldn’t be operational.
“That’s just one example. There are others where pharmacists have taken similar action to make sure that them taking on this extraordinary, critical role of being a frontline health professional does not impact their family.
“There’s obviously an increased cost impost on him, because he’s paying out of pocket for that temporary accommodation.
“It would be great if he was able to access temporary accommodation through hotels or motels close to where he lives, so that he’s not also financially penalised by having to fork out money for alternative accommodation.”
SBS News, meanwhile, reported on the case of Michael Franciscus, a Perth pharmacist who decided to self-isolate to help protect his wife, who has a disability, and their daughter.
His wife, Jocelyn, has significantly reduced lung capacity and difficulty coughing following a spinal cord injury which caused her to become quadriplegic.
He told SBS News that the number of customers attending his two Subiaco pharmacies was “unprecedented”.
“It’s really tough,” Mr Franciscus said. “Me and my wife, we are both aware of the situation and come to terms with it. But for [my daughter] … I tried to talk to her over the phone before going to bed the other day, she broke down and I broke down.”
Dr Freeman said that in the event that there is an acceleration of the number of COVID-19 cases in Australia, there will be more and more pressure on primary health care workers such as community pharmacists, given that there “won’t be capacity in the hospital setting” to manage it.
“It’s great for hospital staff, and I would support that, but for parity you would hope similar concessions are made for primary health care staff.”
The Pharmacy Guild welcomed the NSW move.
“Healthcare workers like pharmacists, pharmacy assistants, paramedics and nurses have been on the frontline, face-to-face with their patients, spearheading the fight against COVID-19,” said President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia NSW Branch, David Heffernan.
“It’s fantastic to see the hotel industry offer accommodation to healthcare workers, who can’t go home out of fear of spreading this virus to their families.
“Equally, the Berejiklian Government and the NSW Department of Health should be congratulated for taking accommodation providers up on their offer to help the professionals who care for us, care for their families,” said Mr Heffernan.
The Guild says that the initiative was prompted by social media requests from healthcare professionals seeking alternative accommodation to keep their families safe.
The NSW Department of Health will keep a register of offers by the hotel industry, including home-sharing platform Airbnb, to help make it easier to book rooms for those working around the clock to keep their communities safe.
“Pharmacists have been on the frontline since the COVID-19 crisis began, and we will be here until the end. In doing their job, pharmacists have been abused, punched, spat on, and even had medicine bottles thrown at them by a tiny minority of patients,” said Mr Heffernan.
“Community pharmacists have been working tirelessly to make sure people can get their medicine, their flu shots, and that our communities are generally well cared for.
“It’s welcome news that the State government has stepped up and recognised the contribution being made by community pharmacists to the fight against COVID-19,” said Mr Heffernan.
Western Australia has already seen some healthcare professionals housed in hotel accommodation.
Earlier in the week the Victorian Government also announced that hospital workers who test positive for coronavirus, and those that have had unanticipated and unprotected contact with a person suspected of having coronavirus, will be put up in hotels or apartments to self-isolate free of charge.
The Andrews Government said that this is particularly important for those who live with other healthcare workers or members of vulnerable cohorts – including people over 65, people who are immunosuppressed or have an underlying chronic condition, pregnant women, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Victoria’s hospital workforce and paramedics are heroes – we know they’re at greater risk because of their work but they shouldn’t have to fork out for a second place just to protect their families, loved ones or housemates,” said Premier Daniel Andrews.
“This will help slow the spread of the virus, protect our health system and save lives.”