Planning for disaster

Call for pharmacies to be compensated for providing free medicines and supplies during a disaster

Interviews with seven Tasmanian pharmacists whose practices were impacted during the catastrophic 2013 bushfire season revealed problems with medicine supply, patient care and regulatory and financial impacts during and after the disaster.      

The researchers say their findings highlight the key role played by pharmacies in these disasters as they “often serve as an important triage point for the public as well as being potentially the sole providers of primary care during natural disasters”.

Pharmacists need to be more involved in disaster management planning and receive greater support form government agencies during times of crisis, the researchers said.

They called for provision to be made for compensation to affected pharmacy owners for any medications and necessities that are supplied free-of-charge during emergency situations. This was an issue identified by all interview subjects    

Among the other problems identified by the researchers was accessing medications from non-CSO suppliers during a time of crisis.

The authors noted that Pfizer, the only pharmaceutical company that does not utilise CSO wholesalers “failed to deliver its products to affected pharmacies, and subsequently patients, in a timely manner”.

One of the interviewed pharmacists said: “The CSO wholesalers performed extremely well. Pfizer performed very inadequately, it was a week to get drugs down. They rang us up and said no, we can’t get anything down.”

The state’s three-day emergency supply rules also hampered pharmacies that often needed to supply medication without a prescription in an emergency situation.

During the interview, participants were asked if they faced any ethical issues when dispensing a 3-day emergency supply of medications to displaced individuals with no money and prescriptions.

Some pharmacists said they had difficulty dispensing a 3-day supply and support a change to this regulation.

“It seems to me to be a nonsense in a situation like this where our customers – and some of them weren’t able to get home for a fortnight – to suggest to them that we would give them a 3-day supply of something and then have them come back in another three days and come back in another 3 days, when it’s far easier to just provide their prescription [one month’s supply],” one pharmacists said.

“It’s not feasible, it’s not realistic at all really [the 3-day supply rule]. I’m pretty sure most pharmacists would agree with what I’ve said. But when you actually are in the situation, it really does make sense to supply some of them with a month’s supply.”

“Well there were [regulatory issues] but it was also – at the end of the day you had to have a bit of common sense. We had to work with what we had but also feel that you’re comfortable in supplying that so whether that meant calling a GP, calling another pharmacy, that was done,” another commented.

Staffing issues due to roadblocks and personal properties being under threat also impacted on some pharmacies’ operations, the researchers said.

One interviewee said: “We had one staff member who unfortunately – whose house was severely under threat. She worked through the Friday and the Saturday. That fire was something like 10 m from her house….”

The article was published in the journal Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy.

Image by 80 trading 24, Wikimedia Commons

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