Panic buying could spark meds shortages

As new cases of COVID-19 are confirmed in Australia, including that of a health worker, a new challenge is emerging for pharmacists

Reports continue of Australians stripping pharmacy and supermarket shelves of hand sanitiser, and face masks in the case of pharmacy, with Anja Faustein, owner of the Treasury Pharmacy in Melbourne’s CBD telling The New Daily that “People are going mad”.

Now, leaders at the Pharmacy Guild and Australian Medical Association have also taken to the mainstream media to ask Australians not to panic buy medications.

Victorian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild Anthony Tassone told 3AW’s Tom Elliott that it was human nature that when told not to panic, some people might do so: “it is a tricky one”.

He pointed out to listeners that medicines shortages have been a problem for a while, before the advent of the novel coronavirus – and asked them to be understanding when pharmacists follow requirements.

“If they are requested to dispense multiple repeats or multiple supplies of a medicine, they actually need to get the prescriber’s or the doctor’s permission to do so,” Mr Tassone said.

“So if you do get told by a pharmacist, ‘Look, I need to check with the doctor first,’ that is a legal obligation, they’re not trying to be difficult or not help you in any way.”

He later told the AJP that “Being the most visited and accessible primary healthcare destination in Australia, community pharmacies are at the frontline for queries from the public regarding the current coronavirus outbreak”.

“The Guild has received feedback from numerous members of patients wanting to ‘stock-up’ on their medicines, both over-the-counter and prescriptions,” he said.

“There is currently no recommendation from the Chief Medical Officer, Departments of Health or any other public health authority of the need for patients to do this. 

“It can be challenging for pharmacists trying to allay patient concerns, particularly because medication shortages and out of stocks have been part of the pharmacy landscape for the last couple of years threatening continuity of supply for patients and requiring numerous brand substitution changes for some patients.

“There is no documented shortage that has occurred as a direct result of the coronavirus or manufacturing operations from China or impacted regions, however the paradox is if patients ‘panic buy’ medicines it could potentially cause shortages in some medications.

“In some jurisdictions, such as Victoria, pharmacists have a legal obligation to gain the prescriber’s authorisation to supply multiple repeats at once if this has not been indicated on the original prescription when first written which patients may not appreciate or understand.

“Pharmacists are well versed at keeping up to date with public health messaging whatever the topic may be and keeping abreast with the latest advice from the Department of Health and Chief Medical Officer which professional associations such as the Pharmacy Guild help disseminate which is essential.”

Meanwhile AMA national president Dr Tony Bartone has told ABC Radio Melbourne’s Virginia Trioli that “there’s no reason to go out and panic buy, you know, the almost bunker level materials at this present time”.

“And we’ve seen some of the pictures and some of the reports and the queues outside of supermarkets completely are disproportionate to the issues at hand.

“And so my message is basically just for everyone to take heed of the public health messaging and the messages from both State and Federal Government communication arms and just to keep themselves as best prepared, to practise good hygiene measures and, obviously, if they’ve got symptoms, to stay away from the workplace – we don’t need to spread other conditions around.”

As at March 3, Australia has 33 cases of COVID-19, with nine now confirmed in NSW.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant confirmed on Tuesday that one case concerns a health care worker who has not travelled to any high-risk countries in recent weeks, who is currently being treated after developing respiratory symptoms.

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