Locum pharmacists have shown resilience during the pandemic as they have dealt with changing border restrictions and ongoing lockdowns
Pharmacists have shown that they are “willing to step in and help out wherever and whenever needed” during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Heidi Dariz, General Manager of Raven’s Recruitment.
However locum supply and demand has changed alongside the evolving circumstances.
“We are finding that many locums who previously loved to travel from state to state are instead preferring to stay closer to home during this time, and are perhaps not as willing to commit to more longer term assignments,” Ms Dariz told AJP.
“We are educating locums and making them aware of border restrictions and limitations to where they can go and how to obtain an exemption pass.”
Raven’s Recruitment has been able to fill all rural shifts, but only by ensuring they use locums from the same state.
Ms Dariz said the agency has a good supply of locums available at the moment as many of their regular clients who usually book locums to cover their annual leave have been unable to take holidays, freeing many up for placement.
While the recruitment agency has been able to fill locum shifts in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide without any issues, “Melbourne is perhaps a little more difficult, as locums are more wary of travelling at present,” she said.
Queensland pharmacist Claire Stevenson experienced first hand some difficulties associated with the situation in Melbourne.
Ms Stevenson had been working at a pharmacy in Parkdale, south-east of Melbourne, earlier in the year. Following a short break during which she was meant to move overseas, she returned to the same pharmacy but as a locum.
“I was in Victoria and that was meant to be until the end of July but then lockdown happened,” she told AJP.
“I was lucky in terms of the placement because it was a pharmacy I already had an existing relationship with, so they were quite flexible with me. But once all the border changes kept coming in, it was a very uncertain time because they didn’t know when I was going to be able to leave, I didn’t know when I was going to be able to leave.
“I didn’t have anything down there,” said Ms Stevenson, adding that she had to continue extending her rental car and temporary accommodation as time went on.
“I was meant to leave in July and then [the cases in] Victoria were really starting to rise, we went into the initial six-week lockdown, I agreed to the pharmacy to stay until the end of that lockdown – then there was another one.
“Working during the pandemic it did add to the stress, as you have really full on days at work, it was super busy, the pharmacy was being smashed and then trying to figure out how much longer you can stay, you don’t want to leave the pharmacy when it’s really busy and under pressure,” she told AJP.
During the Stage 4 lockdown which began on 2 August, Ms Stevenson eventually decided to leave as family circumstances had changed in Queensland, but as a result of this decision she was forced to go into two weeks of hotel quarantine in her home state. She only recently got out and described the quarantine experience as “extremely fragmented and frustrating”.
“I’ve had a bit of a weird last few months,” she added.
Ms Stevenson has not been alone in experiencing the complexities of locum work during the pandemic, with things being touch-and-go for many pharmacists.
Raven’s Recruitment were initially advised that locum pharmacists would be able to travel across borders as they were deemed essential workers. However, after a locum GP entered Queensland from a Sydney hotspot and travelled to Rockhampton, believing he was classed as an essential worker, the government cracked down completely and refused to make exceptions for pharmacists.
Ms Dariz said there were a few anxious days where had to rebook a few shifts – a locum from NSW who had been returning to Queensland to cover a locum, as well as another Melbourne locum who was travelling to rural South Australia.
“Luckily we were able to ensure all pharmacies were had locum coverage in the end,” she said.
“We have had several requests from pharmacy owners who have needed last-minute emergency locums due to other staff having to isolate due to known contact with a case, and we have managed to fill these with locums without issue. We initially thought that this would be much higher, but thankfully to date, this hasn’t been the case,” she said.
Most recently, one of their Gold Coast locums had been booked in advance to work a number of shifts at Tweed Heads last week, when the Queensland border closed again.
“We thought we were going to need to cancel, however they announced the Queensland/NSW border bubble allowing the locum to enter NSW.”
Ms Dariz congratulated locum pharmacists for their hard work over the past six months.
“I think the fact that we have been able to fill our locum shifts during this pandemic, and in light of the fact of all the travel restrictions in place, shows the resilience of our pharmacists and how they are willing to step in and help out wherever and whenever needed,” she said.
“Not once over these past six months, when we have had to change or rebook locums due to border restrictions that seem to change on a weekly basis, have I had a pharmacy owner or locum pharmacist complain, or seem annoyed. They’ve been understanding, supportive and simply just got on with it.”