A group of community pharmacists is calling for changes from Federal and State governments regarding PPE needs, the CSO, financial relief, NIP access and more
The demand for community pharmacy is at an all-time high as Australia braces for the impact of COVID-19, says Sydney pharmacist and proprietor Adele Tahan.
Ms Tahan and Edwina O’Connell, the wife of community pharmacy proprietor Dan O’Connell, lead a group of Australian pharmacists and pharmacy employees that collaborate on ideas about how to prepare for COVID-19 and support each other.
“In doing this we have found we all have similar concerns,” Ms Tahan told AJP.
“We need to be proactively addressing these matters before the circumstances progress further. Supporting our hospitals is paramount. However, pharmacy is a crucial link to community health, while also providing a buffer for hospitals.
“We ask for assistance so we can stay well, unite to combat COVID-19 and always be here to support the community that supports us.”
The group compiled a list of common concerns and have shared these below.
Masks: Clear concrete guidance is needed on the wearing of masks. Short supply of masks is limiting use to only high-risk circumstances. Pharmacy workers encounter hundreds of people each day.
Thermometers: Stores need InfraRed (IR) thermometers to check staff and patients. We are also unable to source stock for sale to the general public.
Hand Sanitiser: For in-store use, by staff and entering patients is needed. There are some reports stores are finding it hard to sanitise after each customer due to low amounts of hand sanitiser and a need to ration.
Prescription handling: Handling physical prescriptions increases risk of infection (for example, many customers lick fingers to thumb through scripts). We request government waive the need to have scripts signed, by patients or by anyone on their behalf.
Money handling: Cash is a known vector and a common way for elderly to purchase goods. Protocols are needed to reduce infection control in regard to cash.
Vaccinations: Advice in regard to administering flu vaccinations safely when PPE is in low supply.
Continuity: What are the implications of a staff member testing positive? For example, a pharmacy with only one pharmacist may need to close, affecting the whole community. Will pharmacies receive support in these circumstances?
Staffing: Our pharmacies are under strain, having to fund more pharmacists during busy times and emergency pharmacists on call.
Childcare: In-home childcare options for when both parents are working in health sector. We need assistance to keep both key workers working.
Internal Infection Control: PPE, masks and IR thermometers are required for staff monitoring and protection, assistance is needed in acquiring.
Workflow: We are currently adopting measures to reduce customer contact. To achieve this, more time is taken in receiving phone calls, processing phone/online payments, organising packages, scheduling couriers for delivery. Some stores already have floor staff in delivery cars almost full time, thus reducing support staff in the store. What assistance will be put in place should we go into full lockdown? Will community pharmacies be supported by governments?
PUBLIC AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS
Advertising: We need effective messaging from Government advising public to not go to pharmacy if showing signs or symptoms of cold and flu preferably in media and posters provided to pharmacy
Restrictions: We need assistance in the form of a clear message from government limiting pharmacy to essential visits, by the minimum size group of people (i.e. one member from a family) and request patients drop their prescriptions and wait outside or in their cars if it is practical.
Wages: With isolation advice being followed by employees, this results in an increased amount of sick pay for the employer. The employer also needs to substitute staff or increase hours for existing staff to cater to high customer demand, resulting in increased wages. Financial relief should be considered.
Unforeseen expenses: Due to procuring additional PPE, installing sneeze guards and creating signage for health and safety purposes financial assistance would be welcomed.
Risk: Staff are continuing to work in an environment that increases their risk of exposure and contracting the virus. We propose government-funded compensation for pharmacy employees, including casuals, who self-isolate due to suspected illness or contact with confirmed cases. Such action would provide an incentive to stay home, reducing the risk of transmission while supporting our key workers. Alternatively, a flat rate allowance for increased risk while working.
Business Continuity: As restrictions continue foot traffic will decrease. Many pharmacies may not be able to remain viable as revenue decreases and closure would adversely affect the community. This request is made as the government has recently announced an incentive via tax-free bonuses for the aged care sector to encourage employee retention and to keep facilities financially viable. Pharmacy should receive similar consideration.
Hand sanitiser: Manufacturing rules to be relaxed allowing community pharmacy to manufacture hand sanitiser allowing a unification in the fight against COVID-19.
NIP access: The State and Federal governments to cooperate in allowing access to National Immunisation Program (NIP) by community pharmacy. All Australians where ever they live are entitled to equity of access. Free vaccines should be made available to everyone through the NIP.
Flu vaccination: Flu vaccine isn’t apparently available and again we are being overlooked when we are contributing to a public health initiative. We are keeping people healthy and away from public hospital, yet we are constantly hearing that the existing flu vaccine isn’t being delivered to community pharmacy. Our message to Minister Hunt is to allow community pharmacy full and complete access to flu vaccines and access to the NIP. The aim is to keep people away from hospital, not to vaccinate them once they are there.
Zero tolerance: Rude and abrupt public behaviour is completely un-Australian
and harsh penalties must be imposed for anyone insulting or threatening the physical and emotional health of community pharmacists and their staff.
CSO: Stock shortages are frustrating in both metropolitan and rural settings and pharmacists have reported several pages of out-of-stock lines. Has the CSO failed its important role of providing equitable access to medicines to all Australians wherever they live? Is it a system failure? Pharmacists have reported that their second-line wholesaler has dropped their account and refused to service it. They also report massive semi-trailers delivering several months’ worth of stock to big box discounters? We remind all CSO wholesalers that they have an obligation to service ALL their accounts with equity.
Interested pharmacists can request to join the group on Facebook – Pharmacists Australia Covid19 Corona Frontline Management & Care