Staying open through shortages, stress and shutdown

One leading pharmacist has a message for those who are concerned that other pharmacies are being given favourable treatment in terms of stock: we’re all in this together

“I’m hearing rumours about why some members feel some wholesalers are running out of stock – and I wish people would stop spreading rumours because it’s not only irresponsible, but is causing unnecessary panic,” Trent Twomey, Queensland Guild branch president, told the AJP on Monday.

While stock levels were an issue, it would be “incorrect to point the finger” at certain elements of the supply chain, he warned.

“Rumour, innuendo and insinuation against other elements of the supply chain and against colleagues that are running pharmacies down the road are not helpful to anyone in this situation – and definitely not helpful to Australians.

“We’re all stressed, and we’re all under pressure. The last thing we need to do is start pointing fingers.”

He said that there were two key issues for pharmacy at the moment: clinical continuity, and business continuity.

“The Guild are working with both levels of Government to ensure that any regulatory impediments that provide an unnecessary barrier to pharmacists delivering on those two key issues are removed,” he said.

“From a clinical point of view, you should not say no to patients for any reason – you should be creative, should say yes as long as you’re working within the clinical guidelines, so you can ensure your patients don’t go without.

“From a business continuity point of view, pharmacy as a network cannot look after its patients if it’s not also looking after its staff – so we are working with pharmacy owners around Australia to make sure that we do everything we can to make sure we minimise the risk to our staff, and also to make sure that we have the stock we need.

“People need to be aware that the Guild is doing everything it can to communicate and coordinate with manufacturers and to communicate and coordinate with wholesalers to make sure they receive the stock they need to look after the patients they need to look after.”


Shutting down

With several jurisdictions announcing shut-downs of non-essential services such as pubs, clubs and gyms, with restaurants and cafes directed to offer takeaway and/or home delivery only, some pharmacies will be affected by lack of shopping traffic.

Others will be affected, as the COVID-19 crisis continues, by staff becoming ill and by the economic impact of the pandemic.

The key issue is maintaining access to medicines, Mr Twomey warned – and to remember that managing the pandemic is “not a 5k sprint, it’s a 42k marathon”.

“We may all need to scale back to core trading hours,” he said, telling the AJP that great care should be taken to discourage burnout or illness in pharmacists and pharmacy assistants.

“It’s better that you are open every day than being open for long trading hours every day. It’s better that you’re open most days than closed most days.

“I don’t want physical and systematic exhaustion because people are sprinting, and can’t maintain it.”

He said the Guild has been communicating to state and territory officials over the past 24 hours that pharmacy must continue to be treated as an essential service should lockdowns roll out – as must wholesalers.

“There’s no use being allowed to trade if there’s no stock on the shelves.”

Mr Twomey told pharmacy owners that “now is the perfect time to renegotiate with your landlord – renegotiate with your other service providers, whether your telecommunications contract, whether your internet contract.

“Now is the time to renegotiate, not when you’re in trouble. Bring it forward, do it early.”

At the APP Online conference on the Gold Coast last week, Mr Twomey had told delegates that it was vital that pharmacies become digitally agile, as there will be a sharp jump in the way Australians shift to doing business, including with pharmacies, online.

“People are going to move,” he said in a panel discussion on COVID-19 and pharmacy. “They still are loyal, we believe, and the research shows, to me as their local pharmacist.

“But they want to be able to interact with us in a way that they want, and in the format they want, and when they want. Which might not necessarily mean when TerryWhite Myer Centre is open on a Wednesday morning. It could be at 2am that night when something pops into their head: ‘Gee, I need to remember my prescription, or I need some advice’.

“So it’s going to have a deflationary impact, not just in the short term on foot traffic, in shopping centres and strip malls, but it is going to be a long term structural change to the way in which people interact with us, and interact with our pharmacies.”

He advised owners not to wait for their rental option to come up before renegotiation, and also to contact the Guild for advice on any concerns.

“This is a trigger point. This is something that the Prime Minister has said that we have not seen since World War One. This is the perfect opportunity for you to reach out to your landlord to renegotiate your lease.”

Mr Twomey again thanked the pharmacy sector for its hard work during the crisis.

“Our number-one priority is looking after Australians, and it really heartens me that all of our pharmacists and pharmacy assistants around Australia are getting up in the morning, putting their boots on and putting their patients first.”

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