Priority testing ‘a matter of common sense’

Pharmacists required to undertake regular mandatory COVID-19 tests are being forced to wait for hours in extremely long testing lines

NSW pharmacists in hotspots that are required to undertake a mandatory COVID-19 tests are struggling to access testing services, say pharmacy bodies.

The requirement applies to healthcare workers living in hotspot LGAs that work outside of those areas. Workers with symptoms are also required to access testing.

It is critical that pharmacists can access testing without waiting in line for 2-3 hours every 3 days, said Professional Pharmacists Australia, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia in a joint statement on Wednesday.

“Pharmacists are adding hours onto their already long days to wait in extremely long testing lines without any kind of compensation or priority listing,” said PPA President Dr Geoff March.

“This is a significant burden on Australia’s already exhausted frontline health workers.”

Pharmacy Guild of Australia National President Trent Twomey said community pharmacies were proving to be the circuit breaker in reinvigorating the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

“Clearly it is imperative that they can remain in their pharmacies administering vaccines and any delay in their testing means delays in patients receiving their vaccinations,” he said.

“It is matter of common sense that these community pharmacists be given priority access to testing facilities so they can get back to helping protect their communities without delay.”

“I urge the NSW Government to act on this as a health priority.”

PSA National President Chris Freeman said it is imperative that pharmacists and pharmacy staff are given the highest priority.

“As one of Australia’s most accessible frontline healthcare workforce, people rely on their pharmacists,” said A/Prof Freeman.

“This has been clearly demonstrated throughout the pandemic. Our doors have stayed open, providing access to life-saving medicine and health care, and we are now playing a critical role in the vaccine rollout.

“With pharmacists in hotspot areas now administering a large amount of COVID vaccines, it is crucial that they continue to remain open – and to do that, our pharmacists and pharmacy staff must be given the highest priority at testing facilities,” he said.

The three pharmacy bodies have come together to call on the NSW Government to support pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who are required to undertake surveillance testing by giving them priority access at public testing centres.

PPA is also encouraging employers to provide paid worktime to undertake the testing.

Fairfield pharmacist Dave Yassa told AJP the main issue is with staff members leaving the hotspot LGAs.

“Some staff don’t live in the LGA so they don’t have to get tested every three days, it’s only staff that live in the LGA that work outside the LGA that have to get tested. We’re offering a delivering service that goes out into other LGAs, so that delivery driver has to get tested every three days,” said Mr Yassa.

“One issue is obviously if someone [with symptoms] has to get tested they have to self isolate. We’ve had specific issues … where results took three days to come back, so that was a concern.”

He also shared significant concerns around pharmacists having to isolate for weeks despite wearing full PPE when serving a COVID-19 positive person.

“We’ve got a COVID-19 testing clinic right next door, they’re testing patients every day and have numerous positive cases but they never get made a close contact,” said Mr Yassa.

Meanwhile two of his staff members wearing full PPE, who served a positive patient for “literally 2-3 minutes max” were deemed as close contacts and had to self isolate for 14 days.

“We just need clearer guidelines and fewer rules because the government is trying to push us to vaccinate, but a lot of pharmacies are reluctant to vaccinate because of this very issue, so if we could be safeguarded that any pharmacist wearing full PPE could be deemed a casual contact and not a close contact you’ll find pharmacists will be on board and very supportive of it,” he said.

“It’s creating unnecessary hurdles. They need to clarify what we need to do to prevent that.”

A NSW Health spokesperson told AJP that the department conducts a risk assessment each time it is notified of a new venue associated with a confirmed case of COVID-19, to determine whether the exposure is deemed a ‘casual’ or ‘close’ contact.

“NSW Health treats all contacts, both close and casual, of a known case the same – regardless of who they are when determining the appropriate public health response,” they said.

“In some cases, PPE has a mitigating role however all aspects of the interaction, including proximity and duration must be carefully considered in that risk assessment.”

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