Rural pharmacists want one-pharmacy town guarantee

What happens if a team member tests positive for COVID-19? Keeping the pharmacy doors open in a rural or remote town will be no easy task, says advocacy group

Pharmacy owners in rural and remote areas are asking the Federal Government for support amid growing concerns about how residents in one-pharmacy towns will access medications and care if the pharmacy is forced to close.

Under guidelines from the Communicable Diseases Network Australia being used by State Public Health Units it seems highly likely that smaller pharmacies where a team member tests COVID-19 positive will lose all staff members for up to 14 days, possibly longer, explains the Rural Pharmacy Network Australia (RPNA).

“There are over 750,000 Australians living in approximately 350 rural and remote communities across Australia that have only one pharmacy,” says RPNA.

“Some of those towns do not have a medical centre and their residents have no easy alternatives if they lose their pharmacy.

“This will be devastating for any pharmacy affected and in rural areas it will leave entire communities without a pharmacy service.”

Just a few days ago, National Pharmacies issued a statement confirming reports an Adelaide store employee contracted COVID-19.

This employee was directed to recover in isolation at her home. In addition, a further 15 employees who worked with her are in isolation at the direction of SA Health and are also being tested for COVID-19.

The store was forensically sanitised overnight by specialist cleaners immediately after National Pharmacies was informed and within one day had been re-staffed by team members from other stores.

However in rural and remote areas, the possibility of re-staffing a pharmacy in the wake of a team member being diagnosed with COVID-19 poses a monumental task.

“Pharmacy owners will have a choice of closing down until sufficient staff can return to work, or finding the extra funds to cover the cost of a locum pharmacist plus critical support staff such as pharmacy technicians and assistants,” explains RPNA.

“The extra costs of keeping the doors open for two weeks in these circumstances could easily run to $11,000, or even more.”

RPNA says this is “simply too great a cost” for small pharmacies, many of which are already struggling.

They would be financially much better off to close, leaving their community with no pharmacy at all, says the group.

“While GPs have been thrown a so-called ‘700-million-dollar lifeline’ to deliver telehealth services during this crisis, none of the Federal Government measures announced so far provide any assurance for rural pharmacies to ensure service continuity if any team member in a one pharmacy town is diagnosed as COVID-19 positive and has to self-isolate,” says RPNA, adding this would most likely lead to the self-isolation of a whole pharmacy team.

It calls for a guarantee that the government will cover all out-of-pocket pharmacist locum costs and the cost of support staff to ensure rural and remote pharmacies can provide continuity of care.

“This will provide the assurance that vulnerable communities desperately need as they brace themselves against the impacts of this pandemic,” says RPNA.

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  1. Michael Ortiz

    It is only a matter of time before a rural or remote Pharmacy will be closed because of an infected staff member. Emergency response teams of Pharmacists and pharmacy assistants should be established in each State. Where the nearest pharmacy is more than 30 minutes travel, an emergency response team can operate the Pharmacy while the staff are in isolation for 14 days. Funds will need to be found to cover the costs of these teams and their operation. The cost of the response team to the Pharmacy should be subsidised by Government.

    • Geoffrey Colledge

      The EMERGENCY LOCUM SCHEME,which I have worked for on a number of occasions,would probably cover the pharmacist. Maybe, in a case like this, some highly experienced pharmacy assistants could be utilised. It would be good if the government subsidised this and Locumco (the provider I am registered with) could start compiling a group of assistants and preferably not currently working,so they could drop everything and move to the affected pharmacy quickly.

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