Pharmacy COVID-19 testing trial to commence

South Australia is rolling out a two-week testing pilot commencing at several metropolitan pharmacies this week

SA Health has announced a two-week pilot that will allow community pharmacists to test patients for COVID-19.

Up to five metropolitan pharmacies will take part in the pilot, with eligible pharmacy customers with mild respiratory symptoms to be asked if they want to get tested while they are in the pharmacy.

Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade said the trial will capitalise on the trust and goodwill pharmacists have within their communities to improve access to COVID-19 testing.

“People often present to a pharmacy with mild cold or flu-like symptoms to seek advice from their pharmacist or to obtain treatment for symptom relief, and these are the very people we want to get a COVID-19 test,” Minister Wade said.

“We want to build on our network of more than over 60 COVID-19 testing locations in South Australia to make it as easy as possible to get a test.

“As part of our efforts to encourage everyone with symptoms to get tested, over the next two weeks we are trialling a pharmacy-based service where eligible customers will be asked if they want to get tested while they are in the pharmacy.”

Minister Wade said pharmacists already provide a number of health checks and immunisations including flu shots, blood-pressure and diabetes monitoring.

“This trial will see if we can partner with pharmacists to enhance our surveillance of COVID-19 in the community,” he said.

South Australia’s Chief Pharmacist Naomi Burgess emphasised that ongoing training and support will be provided to the pharmacies and pharmacists taking part in the trial.

“We worked closely with SA Pathology to develop a training program to upskill pharmacists in swab collection and infection control so they can provide COVID-19 testing for symptomatic customers over the age of 18,” Ms Burgess said.

“Making sure the pharmacists are safe and feel safe performing these tests is a high priority list and a number of infection control measures will be put in place, including ensuring pharmacies have enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), swabs and pathology specimen bags.

“Increasing the availability of tests and making them as easy to access as possible will increase our State’s ability to respond to potential outbreaks.”

Making sure the pharmacists are safe and feel safe performing these tests is a high priority.—Naomi Burgess, SA Chief Pharmacist

Patients who agree to be tested will need to have a smartphone and register with the SA Pathology Personify website to receive notification about their result.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia has welcomed the trial.

“As the most accessible healthcare provider, pharmacists are well placed to provide patients with COVID-19 tests which will allow a greater number of people to be tested in South Australia,” said PSA South Australia Branch President Robyn Johns.

“Some patients that enter a pharmacy may not think their symptoms are severe enough to visit the GP or a dedicated testing clinic, but as we have seen throughout the pandemic those with mild symptoms can still test positive for COVID-19.

“Suitably trained pharmacists are more than capable of delivering such services and I congratulate SA Health for this forward thinking common-sense approach that could lead to testing being available in community pharmacies across South Australia.”

The pharmacies involved will have appropriate physical locations such as private areas or consult rooms to conduct the tests, in line with the requirements of the project by SA Health, the PSA confirmed.

Meanwhile if people telephone a pharmacy asking for a COVID-19 test, they will be directed to the usual processes in SA for testing, which include contacting their GP and visiting a dedicated COVID-19 clinic.

To ensure the pilot only captures incidental customers, SA Health says the community pharmacy service will not be overtly promoted and pharmacists will identify eligible candidates on a case-by-case basis.

However the Pharmacy Guild has highlighted that there are risks associated with the trial, and encouraged any member pharmacy who has been approached to participate to contact the Guild for more information.

“It is the Guild’s understanding that SA Health is still in the process of finalising the details of the trial and will consult with the Guild regarding those details. Any pharmacy involved in the trial would need to carefully consider a range of risk issues associated with the testing of COVID-19 in a community pharmacy setting,” a spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild SA Branch told AJP.

“Whilst the Pharmacy Guild supports the government’s desire to make testing for Covid-19 more accessible for South Australians and recognises the important role that community pharmacists play as healthcare providers, we would welcome more detail on the trial, its purpose and how it would operate in order to ensure that public health outcomes are met, whilst at the same time protecting the health and wellbeing of pharmacy staff and patients.”

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