‘The whole industry is on the brink of unravelling.’

Thanks to pressures caused by COVID-19, up to half of pharmacy employees want to leave, while pharmacy owners are also fighting to survive

A new survey by Professional Pharmacists Australia has found that these new pressures, including a “massive” spike in workloads and concerns about safety, are badly impacting members of the profession.

The survey of 640 pharmacists found that conditions are so difficult that half of all pharmacy workers were considering leaving the profession or have already decided to do so.

PPA CEO Gordon Brock said pharmacy workers are struggling with overwork and unsafe conditions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s been a massive influx of customers, some of whom may be infected with COVID-19,” said Mr Brock.

“Around a third of pharmacists believe members of the public with COVID-19 have visited their store and many believed sufficient safety precautions were not being adopted universally.

“The COVID-19 crisis has led to a massive increase in workload for pharmacists with over 72% dispensing more prescriptions than before the pandemic.

“To keep up, pharmacists were pushed to the limit with 42% working extra hours and one in three working through their breaks to keep up with massive demand.”

He said this is putting both staff and customers at risk and in some cases resulted in a lack of time for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, for example.

“One in five pharmacies are not disinfecting the working environment, and one in four are not directing potentially infected patients to the COVID-19 hotline,” Mr Brock said.

“Only 40% of pharmacies are providing COVID-19 specific training to staff and less than half have been given access to personal protective equipment.”

Mr Brock said that PPA feels employers have failed to “properly support” pharmacist employees and that this is a reason survey participants gave for their consideration of leaving the profession.

He said that, “49% of pharmacists were considering leaving the profession or have already decided to do so and 66% of these said their employer’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis directly contributed to their decision.

“Pharmacists are on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19. They should be supported by additional staff and provided with appropriate training, personal protective clothing and safe working conditions.”

But Pharmacy Guild of Australia NSW branch president David Heffernan said the sector more widely is struggling.

He agreed that employee pharmacists were facing considerable difficulties, including in managing bad behaviour by stressed and frightened patients.

“In one of my own pharmacies, a lady told one of my own staff that ‘I hope you get COVID and die, you b***h,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to put up with that. And when my own employees are copping that abuse, I know the sort of pressures people are under.

“The Australian Medical Association and other groups are getting extra funding, and extra security, and Personal Protective Equipment – but the pharmacy industry has been taken for granted,” he said, saying that Governments need to act to provide certainty and support for the sector.

Access to Personal Protective Equipment was slow to happen in pharmacy despite efforts from pharmacy stakeholder groups, he said, though it is now beginning to catch up.

“The whole industry is under strain, and pharmacists, along with their employees, are under duress,” he said.

“We can’t just single out employees. The whole industry is on the brink of unravelling, and we need protections, and we need funding and security, financial security.

“We [at the Guild] are getting constant reports of pharmacists being stressed, pharmacy owners being stressed… not just through the workload but also the flipside of that: now, after the crazy buying is over, they’re stressed about the lack of traffic while they’re still paying high rents.

“That was an initial sugar hit but it’s a ghost town in many shopping centres now, and pharmacy owners are looking at their books and wondering how they’re going to survive. They’re filling out JobKeeper forms and facing hard decisions.

“Then we get talk of second waves of infection coming. This all comes after the fires – it’s been I think the most difficult six months our industry has ever faced in NSW.

“It’s taking its toll.”

Any readers who are distressed can call 1300 244 910 for anonymous and confidential support from a pharmacist colleague over the phone through the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS), available 8am to 11pm EST 365 days of the year.

For urgent assistance when PSS is not available, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

For 24/7 confidential incident support for employee and owner pharmacists, members can call PDL on 1300 854 838 Australia wide.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael Khoo

    In the future it would be reasonable to have clauses in awards, leases and commercial credit contracts that allow for workplace and commercial disruption due to pandemic and other natural disasters. They already exist, to a limited degree, in insurance policies.

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