Pharmacists restricted in disasters: study

Image courtesy QUT.

Outdated laws are hampering pharmacists from helping to provide timely, effective treatment to displaced people, say researchers

Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology say that the legal barriers pharmacists face across Australian jurisdictions include restrictive emergency medication that only covers three days as well as vaccination and relocation limitations.

Dr Kaitlyn Watson, from QUT’s Faculty of Health School of Clinical Sciences, said the medical impacts from disasters last much longer than three days.

“People panic and often forget to pack their vital medications,” she said.

“To ensure they have supplies longer than what a pharmacist can administer they find they either go to hospitals’ emergency departments to get a new script or find a GP.

“Both these options are difficult in disaster-hit areas.”

Dr Watson said the current disaster medicine health care model is focused primarily on high-acuity patients; however the demographic of those adversely affected in the longer term during a disaster is shifting.

“Disasters are increasing in frequency and severity displacing people from their homes and life-saving medicines disrupting the continuity of care particularly to the elderly, very young, people with reduced mobility and other vulnerable groups,” she said.

Dr Watson has investigated pharmacy legislation specific to disasters for five countries including Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand.

The research has been published in Australian Health Review and co-authored by researcher Dr Judith Singleton and Professors Vivienne Tippett and Lisa Nissen.

The study found legislative barriers prevented the level of assistance pharmacists can provide during times of crisis which in turn added to the burden on healthcare teams during disasters.

“Pharmacists need to be aware of the different legislation supporting their roles in disasters, which can differ significantly depending on the location of their practice,” the authors write.

“Supportive legislation (e.g. emergency supply, vaccination and relocation or mobile pharmacies) has the ability to empower pharmacists in disasters to better serve disaster-affected communities and increases the overall healthcare resources available.”

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  1. This is obviously a very important issue in trying to achieve ongoing medication supply for patients during the stressful period of disaster situations.

    I have only read the summary of this article, but I note the conclusion that:”It is not a question of whether pharmacists have the skills and capabilities to assist, but rather what legislative barriers are preventing them from being able to contribute further to the disaster healthcare team”.

    If that is indeed the case, for what it is worth, there is a solution which comes to mind, which would incorporate all the inbuilt checks, balances and legalities required to enable pharmacists to provide ongoing medications, and fully contribute to the disaster healthcare team in emergency situations for the full duration of the emergency. As I will outline, this would be a simple and systematic process but would require various minor legislative changes in the National Poisonsa Standard (SUSMP), and adoption of the changes in the various State/Territory Poisons Legislations.

    To achieve this would firstly require the creation of a generic approval along the lines of something like “pharmacist approval to supply urgently required medications during a disaster, for the period of the declared emergency”, as a legislative appendix to the National Poisons Standard (SUSMP) Legislation, including appropriate templates for documentation and a signed declaration by the pharmacist. This “emergency service” documentation would be completed and submitted by the pharnacist “after the event”.

    It would then obviously also require a concurrent appropriate overarching clause to sanction the emergency supply of prescription-scheduled medicines during a declared emergency, to be written in the appropriate sections of the SUSMP Legislation, referring directly to the added Appendix.

    Finally, since the SUSMP is National legislation, similar concurrent legislative amendments would need to be incorporated and adopted within the the various State/Territory Poisons Legislations.

    (Also, I stand to be coirrected but, from from I have read, it seems that the PBS already has procedures in place to accomodate ongoing medication supplies provided by the pharmacist in an emergency situation- is that correct?).

  2. Bente Hart

    Another issue that needs to be looked at is how to efficient handle ORT patients that is stranded behind blocked roads and who are unable to reach their dosing point. And what to do if the prescribing doctor can not be reached.

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