Community pharmacy will need all hands on deck to help manage the COVID-19 crisis
Speaking at the Australian Pharmacy Professional Online digital conference – which has replaced the postponed APP2020, which was to have been held this week on the Gold Coast – Pharmacy Guild Queensland branch president Twomey said that the Pharmacy Guild is currently working with the Pharmacy Board to help manage workforce issues.
AHPRA is working to manage the four main professions with workforce problems: nurses, medical practitioners, paramedics and pharmacists, he said on Thursday morning.
He said that while Australia has 35,000 registered pharmacists not all are practising, or in full-time equivalent hours.
“We need you,” he said, encouraging pharmacists to consider picking up even an extra shift a week.
He said that workforce shortages have been a problem for some time in rural and regional areas, but in locations including metropolitan Melbourne it is now a growing issue, “and we’re just at the beginning” of the COVID-19 crisis.
While international jurisdictions have made moves towards encouraging retired pharmacists back into the workforce to help cope with the fallout from the novel coronavirus, he said that this is not a simple solution: for example, he has business partners who are in “high risk categories”.
This means pharmacists are not able to simply pick up the phone and say, “I’ve got a cold, can you cover for me,” due to the risk of exposing a high-risk individual to the coronavirus.
However, “there are young pharmacists out there” aged under 50 who may be working in industry, education or research, or even at university studying medicine or dentistry.
“We need you back,” he said.
“The profession is getting tired, the profession is getting fatigued, and we need them back, and we need them back now.”
Gerard Benedet, branch director of the Queensland branch of the Guild, said during the same session, which looked at a number of aspects of the COVID-19 crisis, that areas affected by previous recent disasters were suffering a “double whammy”.
For example, pharmacies in bushfire-affected areas were running additional shifts from January, and “that takes a toll” – the Australian pharmacy sector had entered the COVID-19 crisis with an existing workforce shortage.
“We do need all hands on deck and it is a call to arms,” Mr Benedet said.
Moderator Kos Sclavos AM, past Guild national president, strongly advised pharmacy owners to profile all their staff now to help manage workforce stress.
This could mean identifying which pharmacists – and pharmacy assistants, many of whom are young mothers – have children at home who they will need to care for should schools close.
Owners or managers should also identify which staff are studying, and thus could be able to take on more shifts if university classes are suspended; and which staff may have caring duties when it comes to extended family.
John Dowling, national vice president Finance and Tasmanian Guild branch president, told delegates that COVID-19 both overall and in terms of managing staffing is “a marathon, not a sprint… so we need to maintain processes in place”.
He said that measures to help slow or stop infection could include splitting of staff hours, so that one group works one day, and a second group another day.
“The big difficulty is variance in ability to do that,” he said, citing the example of one-pharmacist stores where there is no ability to stop staff from having contact with one another – thus the importance of a business continuity plan.