With COVID-19 related stress growing for pharmacists and patients, members of the profession are facing potential backlash while worried about their own exposure to the disease
A new survey has found that 71% of health care professionals are experiencing high levels of stress related to the novel coronavirus.
The survey of frontline health professionals by TKW Research also found that 78% are concerned about contracting COVID-19, while 55% have increased workloads since the outbreak.
Responding to the survey results, PDL Professional Officer Georgina Woods told the AJP that the organisation has seen a sharp jump in reports involving aggression and intimidation, as well as “a bit of a spike in errors overall”.
“Part of the difficulty is that the general public is anxious, and the workforce is also quite anxious and tired. I think there’s been some communication breakdown happening, more so than usual.”
She said that when a customer comes in and cannot purchase an item – for example, if it is out of stock or the pharmacist adheres to new guidelines aimed at reducing stockpiling – the customer is more likely than usual to become agitated and either threaten to contact regulators, or to actually do so.
“We’re getting a spike in complaints which I think wouldn’t normally occur, but it’s happening now because patients are so anxious and so stressed,” Ms Woods said.
She reminded pharmacists that communication is more difficult at the present time, and that they should try to be more patient with stressed customers. On the flipside, she said she hoped that customers would also try to have more empathy with pharmacists.
“A lot of pharmacists are stressed and fatigued, and so they need to be very aware of how they’re working, and to ensure that they’re checking very carefully, slowing down, and also having some self-care, not only for themselves but for their colleagues as well.”
The survey also found that the lack of available Personal Protective Equipment is a big worry for all healthcare professionals, saying this lack increases their anxiety about contracting or passing on the novel coronavirus.
Pharmacists including the Pharmacy Guild’s Trent Twomey have recently spoken out about the lack of PPE available to pharmacists, and Georgina Woods agreed that it was a serious concern.
“I feel that pharmacists are even more at risk now, because less people are going to doctors’ surgeries or even hospitals, but they’re coming to the pharmacy instead – so we’re really at high risk,” said Ms Woods.
“Pharmacists are stressed because we really are the front line, and there’s no PPE.”
The TKW research involved more than 400 healthcare professionals from around Australia, who took part in late March.
“While some healthcare professionals were worried for their own safety, many were really concerned about becoming infected and then passing it on to others; becoming part of the problem, not the solution,” said Drew Le Grand, a spokesperson for TKW.
“Even though it is early days in terms of the virus workload, healthcare work stress is impacting 71% of staff. Around half of those surveyed have experienced anxiety and 43% have experienced tiredness since the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The research also revealed that more than half of healthcare professionals were either “not that confident” (41%) or “not at all confident” (15%) that Australia’s healthcare system can deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A common sentiment was that staff are very proud of the Australian healthcare system and they consider it one of the best in the world,” Mr Le Grand said.
“However, the majority of healthcare professionals felt Australia’s healthcare system was already at capacity before the COVID-19 pandemic and that the spread of the virus will only bring further stress to the system.”
The research also found that 39% of healthcare professionals were critical of the speed of the Government’s response to COVID-19.
“Despite this, most healthcare professionals agreed that measures implemented by the Government to date were “very effective” in slowing the spread including; personal hygiene (74%), 14-day quarantine for returning travellers (68%), self-isolation (68%), enforcing travel bans (67%) and closing non-essential services (66%),” Mr Le Grand said.
“Healthcare professionals are very positive about the measures put in place, they just feel the response was slower than they wanted to see.
“Healthcare professionals are not only worried about the increase in patient numbers but also how best to deal with them given many are scared, misinformed and have expectations that often can’t be met,” Mr Le Grand said.
For immediate advice and incident support, members can call PDL on 1300 854 838 to speak with a Professional Officers. PDL is available to support its pharmacist members 24/7, Australia-wide.
Pharmacists can also contact the Pharmacists Support Service on 1300 244 910 for peer support related to the demands of being a pharmacist in Australia during this challenging time.
Upcoming webinar ‘COVID-19: Surviving and thriving for pharmacists’ – register here.