Threats underline value of community pharmacy


sun through heatwave

It’s set to be a hard weekend for many as temperatures are expected to soar in most of NSW and a state of emergency is declared across the ACT

Circumstances across Australia at the moment – including temperatures in the mid-40s experienced in Melbourne on Friday, an expected top in the mid-40s in Sydney on Saturday, and a bushfire emergency in the south of the ACT, as well as related smoke and nine confirmed cases of the novel Coronavirus – highlight the importance of pharmacies in their local communities, say pharmacists.

PDL NSW director Curtis Ruhnau, who with his wife Margaret owns a pharmacy in Western Sydney, says that a number of people have come into the store concerned about dehydration.

“For them, we’ve recommended of course that they follow the usual advice, which is to stay indoors and be careful about their activity inside, and outdoors – and we have, when it’s been warranted, recommended that some of them use a rehydration product as well,” he said.

“I had a man in this morning who was concerned about the fact that he was feeling weak, and concerned that he might have been dehydrated or low in salt – and of course my final advice to him was that if he wasn’t feeling a lot better, he needed to present to his local GP or call 000 if he was really feeling unwell.

“In our local area we seem to be a bit of a hot spot for gout, which is exacerbated by becoming dehydrated, so we would tell people to be very cautious and to make sure they keep their fluid intake up.

“This is the community part of community pharmacy. This is what we love to do: be available for our patients, and to help them, not with just general warnings, but actually how those warnings might apply to that patient and their medical history, and their regular medications.”

Elise Apolloni, award-winning pharmacist and managing partner at Capital Chemist Wanniassa, spoke to the AJP from Melbourne, where the temperatures had hit the mid-40s on Friday.

She said that with two fires burning in the ACT – which were upgraded to Emergency level just before 4pm on Friday – following weeks of nearby fires causing hazardous air quality, dust storms and a hailstorm which caused significant property damage – Canberrans’ mental health was feeling the strain.

“With heat comes extra stress on our bodies, and we’re not living our lives like we normally do with this weather, the smoke, hail and fires,” she said.

“People are already feeling very disrupted in their day-to-day lives, particularly in the ACT – in 2003 we had an absolutely devastating impact from fires, and for anyone who lived in Canberra at the time even the sight of smoke is enough to cause anxiety and a lot of stress.”

She said that a lot of distressed members of the public had visited her pharmacy – “and pharmacists are part of the population that will come into contact with a lot of these stressed people as they make their preparations for what may lay ahead”.

Australians are also concerned about the novel Coronavirus. While P2 masks are currently still available from pharmacies in the ACT – which has no confirmed or suspected cases as yet – Ms Apolloni said she has seen a lot of people in Melbourne wearing masks, despite the good air quality.

Mainstream media has reported face masks, as well as hand sanitizer, selling out in pharmacies around the country.

Curtis Ruhnau told the AJP that at his pharmacy, entire shelves of hand sanitizer had sold out.

“It’s gone,” he said. “I was actually concerned that it might have been stolen, because it disappeared so quickly.

“But after talking to our staff, they told me it had just been bought in a bit of a frenzy. And we can’t get any more.”

Pharmacists also need to be aware that they are also vulnerable to strain, especially when caring for so many others, Ms Apolloni said.

“Pharmacists across the country this horrendous season have been stepping up: they’ve been a listening ear, a voice of comfort in the community, and of general connectedness in a time where we feel very disrupted. We’re very lucky that we have that role to play,” said Ms Apolloni.

“But pharmacists also need to remember to look after themselves and their team members, and we’re dealing with our own stresses at home and when we leave the pharmacy. We need to realise that if our cup’s empty, it’s hard to fill those of others with an empty cup.”

She said that after speaking with pharmacists around the country over the last few weeks, she is aware that many have been unable to take a break and implement some self-care.

“They’re all very tired,” she said. “A lot of pharmacists, especially in non-tourism area, would take a bit of time to count stock, take a break with their family and try to feel refreshed in January, but they haven’t had a chance.

“Everything went on hold. There’s a general feeling that the New Year hasn’t really started yet. It doesn’t feel like a fresh start.

“We need to remember to try to be kind to ourselves: these are not easy times, and we’ll do our very best to push through, but we need to take a bit of time to refresh ourselves.”

Pharmacists who are distressed can call the Pharmacists Support Service on 1300 244 910.

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