Prescription for pharmacists: planning, empathy and self-care

female pharmacist prescription script dispensary

With pressure being put on pharmacists by people wishing to stockpile medicines and other items, PDL and PSS advise on how you can best respond

Professional indemnity insurance provider PDL says it has received an increased number of calls over the past week from pharmacists being pressured to supply multiple quantities of prescriptions for people concerned about the potential coronavirus impact.

“We have seen cases of aggression in pharmacy due to people wishing to stockpile medicines and other items,” says PDL professional officer Georgina Woods.

“This is especially the case with medicines people need to take regularly, such as blood pressure, diabetes and respiratory medicines.”

Ms Woods points out that the PSA and the Pharmacy Guild have both come out saying that there is no need for the general public to stockpile either over-the-counter or prescription medicines.

It is understandable that many pharmacists and pharmacy staff may be feeling stressed in the current situation, says Kay Dunkley, executive officer at the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS).

“There is a lot of anxiety in the community, and as health professionals, pharmacists and staff can be on the receiving end of anger and frustration by members of the public who are fearful,” she says.

“Some members of the pharmacy profession have experienced racism and unpleasant behaviour.”

angry customer patient pharmacist pharmacy

Sydney pharmacy owner Caroline Diamantis recently told AJP: “We’re copping the brunt of people’s stress … everyone’s just on high tension. I’ve had a couple of people, when you don’t have stock or run out, saying ‘What do you mean I can’t have it? What do you mean I can’t have six?’

“That’s put a lot of pressure on us as pharmacists. You’re constantly explaining yourself and saying that you want there to be enough for everyone. We’re very exhausted.”

Jamal Hajeid, manager at Leumeah Pharmacy in NSW, says he has noticed increasing numbers of patients asking for more medications.

“Patients are definitely stockpiling, people aren’t happy. I’ve had customers come in asking whether they should be buying more,” he told AJP.

“I definitely won’t be allowing people to stockpile… I’d rather give it to someone in need. It’s a bit of a selfish act [to stockpile] I think.

“You understand their situation, but you don’t want anyone else to suffer,” says Mr Hajeid.

PDL professional officer Gary West says the best way to respond to stressed-out patients is with empathy, however firmly communicating that they do not need to stockpile their medicines.

“Pharmacists need to be talking to patients, telling them that even though there is a significant increase in infection, pharmacists would find a way to ensure supply,” he says.

“I think empathy is really important – acknowledging that you understand the patient’s concerns, however reiterating that pharmacies do have processes in place that will allow continuity of supply even if there is infection – through delivery, third-party supply and using systems that are already in place,” he says.

“So, using that empathy and also trying to get patients to understand the consequences for themselves if they start stockpiling.

“At the moment the advice for all organisations and government bodies is to continue as normal,” says Mr West.

He encourages pharmacists “to try to allay people’s fears and explain to them that stocking up on medication can have some negative impacts, it can lead to shortages for other people who require medication.”

young pharmacists: bored blonde pharmacist yawns as she dispenses meds
It is essential for pharmacists to look after themselves, including having adequate rest, says PSS’ Kay Dunkley.

Ms Dunkley explains that for both members of the community and those in the pharmacy, it is fear of the unknown and the unpredictability of what will happen that is causing stress and anxiety.

“Planning will help to alleviate stress in this type of situation,” she says, providing the following tips for pharmacists to help cope with the current situation:

  • Have a plan in place to manage inappropriate requests from the public who want to stockpile medication or other items.
  • Be prepared to manage someone who presents with symptoms that may indicate COVID-19:
    • Have masks available.
    • Know how to triage that person.
    • Know where the nearest source of testing is.
    • Institute a cleaning protocol on all surfaces which may have been contaminated.
  • Have a process for more thorough cleaning during the outbreak.
  • Have a plan for staff shortages in case several staff members are required to go into isolation.
  • Self-care is crucial for pharmacists as healthcare practitioners:
    • Have adequate rest and healthy food.
    • Use hand sanitiser regularly and wash hands thoroughly before eating, drinking or touching face.

With the concerns and pressures being placed on pharmacy staff, Mr West reminds pharmacists that they can talk to PDL or PSS if they’re feeling overwhelmed by the situation.

“We’re happy to support their situation and their actions,” he says.

Any pharmacists who require support can contact the PSS on 1300 244 910 (available 365 days of the year from 8am to 11pm).

PDL is available on 1300 854 838 Australia-wide 24/7 for confidential advice and support.

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1 Comment

  1. Catherine De Jonge

    With all the out of stock we have been having over the past couple of years, can we say confidently that we will have good continue supply of their medications? Front page news articles stating that the Gov is “stockpiling essential medications” doesn’t help either.

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