Community pharmacies in Victoria are rising to the challenge despite out of stocks, patients struggling with mental health and general unpredictability
Pharmacy staff are trucking along in the face of unpredictability and uncertainty during the latest round of restrictions to hit Victoria.
The changes have been described by the state government as “circuit breaker actions” to stop the spread of COVID-19 following an outbreak of new cases, with only four reasons to leave homes, mandatory masks and a five-kilometre travel radius.
Restrictions began from midnight on Friday 12 February and were initially meant to stay in place for five days. However Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will be making a call on Wednesday on whether or not they will be extended.
“That’ll be based on public health advice, whether we can go back directly to the settings that were there on Thursday and Friday, or whether we have to ease back into it,” Mr Andrews said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“We will get these rules off as quickly as we possibly can, as safely as we possibly can.”
He added: “We have to change as the virus changes. Talking about the UK strain, we have not seen community transmission of the South African strain, who knows what else is out there? It’s nimble, it changes, and our response has to also.”
Anthony Tassone, president of the Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch, said the restrictions are having a variety of impacts across community pharmacies in the state.
“The Guild has received anecdotal reports from members of varying impact of the Stage 4 lockdown depending on their location,” he told AJP.
“Those pharmacies in large shopping centres and central business district areas have experienced another significant downturn in trade which was consistent with last years’ experience.
“Pharmacies in local neighbourhood or strip locations may have experienced busier trade momentarily due to members of the public only being able to leave home for certain reasons, and not be travelling far from their home for work, schooling, or other reasons.
“Like all Victorians, community pharmacies and our teams are eagerly awaiting further word on whether the current Stage 4 lockdown due to end 11:59pm Wednesday 17th February will be able to end based on the daily locally acquired COVID-19 and total active case numbers.”
Dimitra Tsucalas, pharmacist at Ascot Vale Supercare Pharmacy in inner city Melbourne, told AJP that a sense of “unpredictability” has almost become the status quo in the state.
“I don’t think people are panicking, there’s a greater alertness and acceptance of the necessity to wear masks or sanitise and so on,” she said.
“We did have an incident on Saturday where someone who wasn’t wearing a mask – some people are forgetting to do it – and a new pharmacy assistant asked him about it and he got very defensive and upset and the reason was because he had an exemption.
Some people who have got some pre-existing illnesses and problematic situations are feeling it differently.
Ms Tsucalas said she has another patient who is not coping well with not being able to see his family over the past year.
“He’s gone of his psych meds and he’s unstable,” she said. “I went around to his house yesterday, and I’m the stage where I’ve called his doctor. For some people, I think it’s very obvious that they find it all a bit overwhelming.”
There has been a noticeable negative mental health impact for Victorians, not only among pharmacy teams but the whole community, said Mr Tassone.
“For announcements to take such sudden effect with little warning and wide-ranging impacts for other small businesses, children and their schooling or day-care arrangements can have a significant effect on households and families,” he said.
Out of stock situations are not helping. Even pre-Covid, the new normal was the beginning of out of stocks for lots of different medicines, added Ms Tsucalas.
“Sertraline went out of stock – every Tom, Dick and Harry is on sertraline – so the different strengths have gone out of stock,” she said.
“It’s an ongoing thing, you’re pedaling on mouse wheel checking brands and availability. There’s negotiating with the patient about it, and explaining why they’re going to have different brand or going to have to take two pills instead of one, it’s quite problematic.
“I expect that restrictions will probably go a bit longer, it would not surprise me that it goes a bit longer than five days. I would hope it could be contained to less than 10 days and hopefully the restrictions will achieve that.
“But five days is better than 90 days and people have to remember that,” she said.
Meanwhile Mr Tassone highlighted the hard work of Victorian pharmacists.
“In such uncertain times, one thing is absolutely without doubt and that is pharmacies will continue to be there for their patients and community keeping their doors open to deliver care and advice,” he said.