People with potential COVID-19 infections are still being sent by GPs to pharmacies – but the sector seems to have been forgotten when it comes to protective gear, says one stakeholder
Pharmacy Guild Queensland branch president Trent Twomey says that reliance on Primary Health Networks to distribute Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to pharmacy has exposed Government and PHN lack of focus on the sector.
Pharmacists have been speaking out to express growing concern with sector workers’ exposure to the novel coronavirus, with pharmacists including Jennifer Kirschner, and Mohamed Kaoud and Mahmoud Galal, writing letters to the general public and the Prime Minister respectively to ask for help protecting themselves and their colleagues.
“There is a lack of personal protective equipment in Australia, and this is being felt by all primary health carers, but especially community pharmacy,” Trent Twomey told the AJP on Wednesday.
“In the first instance, it’s simply a lack of available stock. Government agencies at all levels are working with manufacturers, both domestically and abroad, to increase supply – however, these are still many weeks away.
“The Government has relied on the Primary Health Networks to engage and distribute PPE with community pharmacy, and it has been blatantly obvious that there is a stark contrast between the ability for a PHN to liaise with a GP, compared with a community pharmacist.
“When the dust settles after this, one of the outcomes needs to be that if Primary Health Networks are there for all primary care, they need to pull their socks up and get to know community pharmacy, because currently they do not.”
He said that while he has a “great” relationship with local general practitioners, as more GPs begin to take advantage of their new ability to stay at home and provide consultations via telehealth, pharmacists are still on the front line in a retail setting.
“I don’t know what need those GPs would have for PPE – whereas pharmacists have been coughed on, have been sneezed on, and verbally and physically abused in some instances,” said Mr Twomey, adding that instances of coughing and sneezing have not been deliberate attacks to his knowledge, but simply a function of sick people having respiratory symptoms.
“We’ve had instances in my own pharmacy which have been repeated, and I’ve heard reports from all around Australia, where a patient will have a fever or some symptoms that may be a show-tell sign of a potential Covid case – and the GP is referring them next door to the pharmacist,” he said.
“It may be too dangerous for that person to see the GP receptionist, but they’re more than happy for them to see the pharmacy assistant!
“The Government needs to start redirecting their focus from the closed GPs to those open community pharmacies.”
As well as calling for better access to PPE for pharmacists, Mr Twomey called for full scope of practice and an immediate resolution to the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement, which remains unsigned well past the Morrison Government’s initial 2019 deadline – a fact noted by Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen when he wrote to Minister Greg Hunt this week.
“Our funding agreement expires in less than three months,” Mr Twomey said. “We’re calling on the Minister for Health to sign the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement and to give the continuity and the stability that the sector needs in order to be able to persevere during this crisis.
“The solution to continuity of care here is not $1.1 billion to GPs to sit at home and do telehealth. The answer is simpler and much cheaper, and is of a higher quality of care – and that involves utilising your local community pharmacist to their full scope of practice.
“That means autonomous prescribing, continued dispensing without the restrictions on one per year, and full therapeutic substitution.
“Today is April Fool’s Day, and pharmacists are sick and tired of being treated like fools whilst other areas of the primary health care system are getting billion dollar handouts. The community pharmacy sector needs stability and security.
“Our energies and efforts should be focused on our patients and our staff and we should not have to waste that energy on bureaucratic negotiation.”