Pharmacists neglected in pandemic planning

pharmacist with customer blowing his nose

Pharmacists are a “largely untapped” resource in flu outbreaks and their role should be specified in pandemic planning, says one expert

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association’s Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research has published an Issues Brief, “Improving pharmacist involvement in pandemic influenza planning and response in Australia,” which highlights a wider role that could be played by pharmacists.

The paper was written by 2018 Deeble Scholar Libby McCourt, from the Faculty of Health, Queensland University of Technology, who says that, “Despite being the third most common health professional in Australia after doctors and nurses, pharmacist skills are not well used or incorporated into pandemic planning”.

“As we saw with last winter’s record flu outbreak and the ‘swine flu’ (H1N1) outbreak in 2009, we are dealing with something that is not uncommon, and has potentially catastrophic effects, not only on personal health but on productivity and the economy,” she says.

“Being prepared, planning and making sure those plans align with health workforce activities and skills are essential to reducing the impacts of a flu outbreak.

“At the moment there is a national plan for responding to pandemic influenza that outlines agreed arrangements between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. But it’s largely up to the individual states and territories to decide the best way to plan and respond within their own jurisdictions.”

She says these plans, with the exception of that of the ACT, are publicly available, but do not specify pharmacists’ roles in a consistent or comprehensive way. The gaps vary by state and territory.

“Similarly the role of pharmacist organisations, especially in planning responses and in communication within the profession in each state and territory, are not clearly or consistently specified,” Ms McCourt says.

Pharmacists can contribute to limiting an outbreak in several ways, including vaccinations without prescription, issuing absence from work certificates, antiviral distribution, surveillance activities, and emergency medication supply.

“Based on the results of research for this paper, national and state responses to pandemics could be improved by clearly spelling out pharmacist roles to be consistent across all pandemic plans, involving pharmacy professional organisations in planning and communication with Departments of Health, and setting up pandemic response networks within the profession and between the profession and organisations such as Local Health Districts and Primary Health Networks,” she says.

“There is even scope to mobilise pharmacy students to contribute to the response during an outbreak if the healthcare workforce is at its limits—not for clinical duties, but duties such as calling pharmacies to check antiviral stock levels, calling patients for follow-up, assisting patients with paperwork, and so on.

“This has been tried successfully in the USA.”

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