‘Enough is enough’: Pharmacists in Melbourne and regional Victoria complain of not being prioritised as essential workers and having their COVID-19 test results delayed
Pharmacy staff have had “very mixed experiences” when presenting for COVID-19 testing and requesting to be prioritised as an essential worker, says Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone.
This has been happening since the start of the pandemic, in both regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne, Mr Tassone told AJP.
“Despite having a letter from their employer and other suitable documentation, for example an AHPRA registration card for pharmacists, there have been countless examples fed back to the Guild of pharmacy staff not being treated as an essential worker and having their test results prioritised,” he said. “It has happened for my own staff.”
In some instances, staff in regional Victoria including Seymour and Echuca have had to wait almost a week for results.
“With the rural pharmacy workforce already stretched and facing existing challenges, the last thing needed is preventable delays in processing of test results to assess whether staff must be isolated for a longer period or can return to work once symptom free,” argued Mr Tassone.
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services told AJP that pharmacists should be receiving priority testing under the current regime.
“The Department is prioritising testing for all healthcare workers including pharmacists and their staff to reduce wait times as much as possible, so they can continue helping the community during this pandemic,” a DHHS spokesperson said.
“We’re aware of some cases where there has been some confusion from staff at testing sites and we’re working closely with them to ensure that all pharmacists and their staff receive priority testing.”
Priority testing is meant to be available for all healthcare and aged care workers and people linked to known outbreaks throughout the pandemic, the spokesperson confirmed.
“Lab turnaround times are currently averaging around two to three days but there may be cases where this is longer. Positive results and results of essential workers are prioritised and generally communicated to the patient within 24 hours. We’re working hard to speed up the communication of negative results,” they said.
Anyone with even the mildest of symptoms is urged to get tested.
Mr Tassone said the Pharmacy Guild understands the extreme pressures that the Victorian government and DHHS is currently experiencing in tackling the pandemic.
However he added: “Really, enough is enough when it comes to ending the confusion at a testing site. There would be no question of a doctor or nurse as an essential worker, and it must be the same for community pharmacy staff.
“The Guild has received repeated assurances from the office of the Victorian Minister for Health that community pharmacy are a priority and that the Department will advise the testing sites according. This pandemic has been with us for almost six months – which is ample time to have this sorted out,” said Mr Tassone.
“Pharmacy is an essential service trading through the Stage 4 lockdowns to continue vital and critical medical service delivery for the Victorian public. It only makes logical sense that the very people making this happen are considered essential workers.”