Pharmacy under pressure

Bushfires hit houses on the south coast of NSW. Photo: Mark Naunton/Supplied.

The trauma of working through bushfires and COVID-19 has placed pharmacy staff at the highest risk of psychological impact, a new article says

Despite a global pandemic following a season of extraordinary bushfires, it has “barely been acknowledged” that community pharmacy staff are one of the highest risk groups for long-term psychological impacts, Australian authors say in a newly published article. 

A ‘personal view’ article from a team that includes Kay Dunkley, Executive Officer of the Pharmacists’ Support Service, says that little research has been undertaken or attention given to the stresses experienced by pharmacy staff during the bushfires and pandemic. 

The authors said: “Community pharmacists and pharmacy staff were under immense pressure to remain open and serve their communities amidst rapidly changing legislation and, at times, conflicting advice from the range of Australian health agencies.

Rapid changes to workload and workflow were combined with the dilemma of balancing professional obligations with the personal duty of keeping themselves and their sometimes geographically distant families safe.

Fluctuating demands and traumatic situations found community pharmacy staff often feeling distressed and underprepared,” they summarised, in their article published in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice.

Working under immense pressure for the last 11 months (since the bushfires in September 2019), has placed community pharmacy staff in one of the highest risk groups for long-term psychological impact, they said.

“In those predisposed, symptoms of acute and long-term psychological trauma are likely to emerge. Insomnia, anxiety and distress are most prominent as an acute response to trauma. Additionally, there are feelings of loneliness, imposter syndrome or survivor’s guilt if they feel like they are not doing enough.

In the longer term, these could evolve into major depressive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some individuals”.

They wrote: “Community pharmacists have been required to rapidly adapt and alter how they work whilst being surrounded by confusion about what protocols they should be following and uncertainty of what the next day will bring.

Conflicting advice…  has also led to increasing frustration, particularly surrounding the use of face masks or other personal protection equipment (PPE). Pharmacists have been mostly unable to access PPE due to supply shortages, forcing many pharmacies to install Perspex ‘splash-screens’ at their own expense in an effort to protect themselves, their staff and clients”.

“Understandably, an overarching feeling of panic, confusion and frustration has set into the public’s mind over the last few months. Concurrently, news outlets have been reporting unfortunate instances of abuse in community pharmacies over new regulations limiting the number of some items able to be purchased as well as medication shortages, real or perceived.

Acute effects of rapid changes to workload and workflow can result in increased anxiety and stress. Community pharmacists are working under immense pressure trying to balance the professional obligations of serving their communities appropriately with their own personal and mental healthcare needs. They not only have the duty of providing for their communities but also a personal duty of keeping their families safe,” they said.

“Working in situations where they are exposed to trauma for which they feel unprepared, as in the case of the bushfires and now the pandemic, community pharmacists may also experience moral injury… as the psychological distress that results from actions, or the lack of them, which violate someone’s moral or ethical code”.


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1 Comment

  1. (Mary) Kay Dunkley

    The Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) can provide a listening ear and support to those who are struggling and help you find the way forward to take steps to recovery. PSS is available every day of the year from 8am to 11pm AEDT on 1300244910.
    PSS also has some small grants available to assist pharmacists and pharmacy staff who have been impacted by the bushfires seek professional support for their mental health. If you would like to know more please email Kay Dunkley on

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