Military helicopters dropping medicines on the beach and jet ski patient drop-offs the new normal for fire-impacted pharmacies. We look at the situation across three states
State Pharmacy Guild of Australia branch presidents have outlined the impacts that Australia-s devastating bushfires are having on their members, and the extraordinary measures being undertaken to ensure patients are receiving their essential medicines.
New South Wales
David Heffernan, NSW Guild branch president has seen his business impacted by the ongoing fire crisis, with his South Coast pharmacy (in Culburra) forced to temporarily close due to smoke and nearby dangerous fires at the emergency’s peak last week.
Mr Heffernan was effusive in his praise for impacted pharmacies and their staff who have kept supplying medicines in the most difficult conditions, with their stores without power, and with no road access for resupply.
He also thanked the state Health Minister Brad Hazzard for his support, as well as the Guild branch office, who he said has been “working tirelessly” to help affected Guild members.
“The response we’ve had from the State government, from the Armed Services, has been 100%,” he said. “We’ve had Blackhawk helicopters flying in supplies to pharmacies without power. In Batemans Bay, for instance, power was only restored on Sunday, so they’d been without for quite a while.”
“The coordination between NSW Health, the Guild, emergency services and the wholesalers has ensured that we’ve been able to resume supply of medicines to Eden and other areas, as well as other towns that were cut-off”.
The amazing efforts of a number of pharmacists has already been highlighted, Mr Heffernan said. He raised the example of Ulladulla pharmacist Tim Rudd who had been taking supplies by jet ski to the heavily fire-affected community of Conjola.
“This level of commitment, and those of so many other local pharmacists, and their staff, in the most difficult of conditions, has ensured that patients have been able to keep taking their medicines,” he said.
A similar situation has been unfolding in Victoria, with many pharmacies being cutoff, and without power.
State branch president Anthony Tassone told AJP that the Guild has been “working closely with pharmacies in North Eastern Victoria, Alpine region and East Gippsland in conjunction with CSO wholesalers, DHL, Department of Health and Human services and local emergency service units trying to assist with: medicine deliveries, evacuation of pharmacy staff, re-entry of pharmacy staff to impacted areas and the sourcing and distribution of air masks”.
“Over a dozen pharmacies in total have been directly liaised with to provide some form of assistance and support in the impacted areas,” Mr Tassone said.
“Some medicine deliveries have had to be flown and subsequently boated in as was the case with Mallacoota pharmacy, and other medicine deliveries have required special permit and emergency convoy escort as has been the case for Corryong pharmacy and Omeo pharmacy.
The conditions are ever changing, and having representation on the Victorian government’s Field Emergency Medical Officer (FEMO) program has been critical in helping facilitate and resolve medicine delivery issues for community pharmacies along with other healthcare needs that have arisen. If other states and territories do not already have pharmacy representation on similar programs in their jurisdictions – I would urge them to do so”.
The current cooler conditions had provided a brief respite for the impacted pharmacies, Mr Tassone said, with the stores being able to recommence trade and have power and services available to them. Helicopter deliveries were made to the cutoff Mallacoota pharmacy during the week, he added.
“It has been fantastic to see the collaboration, calmness and professionalism across the board from our all of pharmacist colleagues and their respective teams, the Department of Health and Human Services, emergency service units, wholesalers, logistics partners and manufacturers during this very challenging time,” Mr Tassone said.
“We stand ready to continue to provide whatever assistance we can to help support community pharmacies to have access to vital medicines and the primary healthcare they need.”
While no pharmacies have been actually directly impacted by the fires in South Australia, they have been heavily caught up in dealing with the aftermath in their communities, said SA Guild branch president Nick Panayiaris.
In both of the two key fire zones in the state: Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills, while no pharmacy had been damaged, there has been a heavy burden in terms of supply logistics and ensuring patients were receiving their essential medicines.
“The most important step, as with the other states experiencing these fires, has been to set up a relief fund to ensure patients continue to have timely access to essential medicines, and can obtain them, regardless of their situation. This has been appreciated by pharmacists and staff who are not having to have difficult conversations with people who may have lost everything.”
“Secondly, we’ve been moving to ensure there is support in place for our staff who are also dealing with the emotional shock and stress, the tiredness, and in some cases, with the loss or damage to their own property.”
Mr Panayiaris said the SA Guild was also in talks with the state government on emergency supply measures similar to those announced in NSW this week.
Go here for more on pharmacies impacted by the fires