The Government has announced that it is now requiring community pharmacists to enforce new limits on dispensing and sales of prescription and over-the-counter medicines
The measure follows a run on certain medications due to concerns about the COVID-19 crisis, and follows Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s plea to Australians on Wednesday not to hoard groceries and drugs, calling such actions “un-Australian”.
Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly has told reporters about the new measure, saying to consumers that “as the Prime Minister said yesterday about panic buying, please do not buy more than you need”.
The Pharmacy Guild and the Pharmaceutical Society, in conjunction with the Department of Health, have now issued new advice to pharmacies. This is also supported by the National Pharmaceutical Services Association, which represents pharmaceutical wholesalers.
Pharmacies and wholesalers reported numerous product lines out of stock, which the TGA pointed out were temporary and local, though they did represent challenges for some patients as well as health care workers such as pharmacists.
“Medicines sponsors (pharmaceutical companies) report that they do not anticipate imminent or widespread national level medicine shortages resulting from the impact of COVID-19 on medicines manufacturing or logistics,” the Guild and PSA say in a joint statement.
“However, if current levels of demand through excessive purchasing continue, supply interruptions will occur at both the national level while sponsors await scheduled deliveries of new stock from international manufacturing sites and at the local level as a result of stockpiling by pharmacy customers.”
The two organisations underline the importance of protecting medicines access and outline the requirements for community pharmacists, which are as follows:
- Pharmacists will be required to limit dispensing of certain prescription products to one months’ supply at the prescribed dose, and sales of certain over-the-counter medicines to a maximum of one unit per purchase.
These limits apply to particular classes of medicines for which unavailability or an interruption to treatment could result in significant health impacts, or which are expected to be subject to increased consumer demand associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The list includes over-the-counter medicines such as glyceryl trinitrate, adrenaline autoinjectors and salbutamol inhalers and prescription products such as asthma and COPD medicines, insulins and oral hypoglycaemics and anti-epileptics. Other medicines may be added to the list in the coming weeks.
- In addition, pharmacists will be strongly encouraged to limit dispensing and sales of all other medicines to one months’ supply or one unit.
Dispensing of multiple repeats is permitted only for valid Regulation 49 prescriptions, which must only be written by prescribers. PBS Regulation 49 must be used sparingly and only in exceptional circumstances in accordance with the legislated criteria. If pharmacists have doubts about the appropriateness of particular Regulation 49 prescriptions please discuss this with the prescriber.
The organisation also highlight that the two over-the-counter medicines for which there has been particularly high demand will be subject to new controls on supply:
- Salbutamol inhalers provided on an over-the-counter basis will be subject to new controls. Pharmacists will be required to confirm that supply is appropriate by confirmation of the patient’s diagnosis, label the product indicating to whom it has been dispensed and record the supply.
- Pharmacists will be required to place paracetamol paediatric formulations behind the counter to assist in allocating supply equitably.
In addition, only one salbutamol or paracetamol paediatric product should be supplied per customer.
The Guild, PSA and NPSA all agreed that these limits on pharmacy sales will also be accompanied by limits on orders from wholesalers, to ensure equitable distribution of stock – including to regional and rural pharmacies, which several days ago were reporting significant shortages.
“Supply of quantities that are not clinically required for an individual may be illegal under State and Territory law and contravene Pharmacy Board Professional Practice guidelines,” the organisations warn.
The National President of the Pharmacy Guild, George Tambassis, urged all pharmacists across Australia to comply with the new restrictions in the interests of the national public health and quality use of medicines.
“These sensible and timely limits announced by the Government will apply to particular classes of medicines which must remain available for patients in need. It is regrettable that such measures are needed, but these are unprecedented and drastic times. We ask all patients to understand the need for these restrictions and to be respectful towards pharmacy staff,” Mr Tambassis said.
“With extremely high demand and panic buying, it became clear supply interruptions would occur if nothing was done.
“We are determined that no patient in need of a medicine in Australia should be deprived of that medicine because of unnecessary hoarding by others,” Mr Tambassis said.
“These measures have been designed to ensure medicines can be supplied in an equitable way to all patients that need them,” he said.
The decision follows calls by the Pharmacy Guild to patients to consider the safety and wellbeing of pharmacists and pharmacy assistants.
Earlier he said he was very disturbed to hear reports from many pharmacy owners and staff of hostile, aggressive and in some cases violent behaviour because of low stock or limits on sales in many pharmacies.
“We are calling on people to please show respect in their dealings with pharmacy staff, who are doing their best to cope in a confronting and at times frightening situation.
“Pharmacists go out of our way to help patients source medicines that may be in short supply at this time if they are needed urgently. But they will not and should not be expected to endure aggression and threatening abuse from a tiny minority of Australians who are engaging in this behaviour,” Mr Tambassis said.
“This behaviour will not be tolerated, and the Prime Minister was right to call out this kind of abuse as un-Australian. The safety and wellbeing of our staff and other patients is paramount. If people behave badly in our pharmacies they will not be served and if necessary we will call on security personnel or the police to have them removed.
“Like all Australians, pharmacists and their staff are also dealing with the personal stress and concerns about the COVID-19 crisis. Through all this, pharmacists as a profession and our caring staff are exhibiting the professionalism and courage that is needed to help us and our communities get through this crisis,” Mr Tambassis said.
Queensland branch president Trent Twomey echoed the Prime Minister’s words in calling hoarding and abuse “un-Australian”.
“Stockpiling of medication is absolutely unnecessary and if it doesn’t stop, it may cause shortages of medicine,” he said.
“If we continue to see stockpiling of medicines, and people purchasing more than they need, this will cause dire consequences as people will not be able to access critical medication when they need to.
“The behaviour we have seen is absolutely ridiculous. It is un-Australian. And it is putting other people’s health at risk. That is totally unacceptable.”
PSA National President Associate Professor Chris Freeman said limiting the dispensing of prescription and over-the-counter products to one month’s supply was necessary to address the issue of people stockpiling medicines due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Government has made it clear to the public that it is critical to stop stockpiling medicine to protect the access of medicines to all Australians,” he said.
A/Prof Freeman said pharmacists were working in the interests of the community and patients and it was important they were treated with respect.
“Pharmacists are working in the best interests of the community and their patients. The current supply network for medicines is adequate to meet demand and if we all do the right thing there will be enough medicines for all who need them.”
This list, provided by the Pharmacy Guild, is not exhaustive and is subject to change.
Medicines where interrupted supply could result in serious health consequences – prescription
Medicine Name/s (examples only)
Opioids, NSAIDs, gabapentinoids
tramadol, oxycodone, fentanyl, hydromorphone, tapentadol, morphine, methadone, celecoxib, pregabalin etc.
isosorbide mononitrate, glyceryl trinitrate
digoxin, amiodarone, flecainide etc.
warfarin, rivaroxaban, dabigatran, apixaban, enoxaparin
TCAs, SSRIs, SNRIs, MAOIs
amitriptyline, sertraline, venlafaxine, moclobamide etc.
Carbamazepine, lamotrigine, phenytoin, topiramate, valproate, levetiracetam etc.
ramipril, irbesartan, metoprolol, dihydropyridines, methyldopa etc.
clopidogrel, aspirin, ticagrelor, prasugrel
olanzapine, risperidone, aripiprazole, paliperidone, quetiapine
eg treatments for hepatitis c
diazepam, clonazepam etc.
Cancer/Palliative care medicines
chemotherapy and symptom management (anti-nauseants etc).
spironolactone, frusemide, HCT
Thyroxine, carbimazole/PTU, hydrocortisone etc.
Glaucoma eye drops
Beta blockers, prostaglandin analogues
Steroids, DMARDs, bDMARDs
Prednisolone, methotrexate, adalimumab etc.
Sulfonylureas, DPP4s, SGLT2is, GLP1s
Metformin, glicazide, sitagliptin, empagliflozin, exenatide etc.
B2 agonists, anticholinergics, inhaled corticosteroids, theophyllines, montelukast
Medicines where interrupted supply could result in serious health consequences – non-prescription
Chloramphenicol eye drops/ointment
Medicines that may be subject to increased demand due to COVID-19 symptom management –prescription
Short acting B2 agonist
Salbutamol, Terbutaline – inhaled
LABA, long-acting beta2 agonist
Salmeterol, Formoterol, Indacaterol, Vilanterol – inhaled (including in combination inhalers)
SAMA, short-acting muscarinic antagonist
Ipratropium – inhaled
LAMA, long-acting muscarinic antagonist
Tiotropium, aclidinium, umeclidinium, glycopyrronium – inhaled
ICS, inhaled corticosterioid
Fluticasone propionate, fluticasone, furoate, budesonide, beclomethasone, ciclesonide, olodaterol – inhaled (including in combination inhalers)
Leukotriene receptor antagonist
Montelukast sodium – oral
Cromones (mast cell stabilisers)
Sodium cromoglycate – inhaled, nedocromil sodium – inhaled
Prednisolone – oral, dexamethasone – oral
Saline – inhaled
Cystic Fibrosis medicines
Cystic fibrosis transmembran e conductance regulator (CFTR) protein progenitor
Ivacaftor, lumacaftor/ivacaftor, tezacaftor/ivacaftor
Amoxycillin – oral
Amoxycillin and clavulanate – oral
Doxycycline – oral
Clarithromycin – oral
Cefuroxime – oral
Moxifloxacin – oral
Azithromycin – oral
Ciprofloxacin – oral
Moxifloxacin – oral
Clindamycin – oral
Benzyl-penicillin – injection
Ceftriaxone – injection
Erythromycin – oral
Roxithromycin – oral
Influenza medicine s
Influenza vaccines – injected
Pneumococcal vaccinations – injected
Domicillary Oxygen Therapy
Oxygen – inhaled
Medicines that may be subject to increased demand due to COVID-19 symptom management – non-prescription
Throat preparations (lozenges, gargles)