When disaster strikes

One wholesaler borrowed a helicopter from a cattle musterer to supply a pharmacy cut off by flooding, while another used a Defence helicopter to supply urgent insulin

The National Pharmaceutical Services Association has highlighted the work of the pharmaceutical wholesalers during recent disasters including Tasmania’s fires and Townsville’s flood.

Despite road closures and dangerous weather conditions, CSO wholesalers continued to distribute essential medicines to their customers, the wholesaler group says.

Chairman Mark Hooper said the efforts of wholesalers to ensure the uninterrupted supply of medicines in times of crisis is critical to minimising the impacts on affected communities.

“When natural disasters occur, we often talk of the impacts in terms of damage to properties, businesses and people’s livelihoods,” he said.

“What is often missed however, is the potential impacts on the community when the health system is compromised during these events. It is circumstances like these that underline the need to maintain the highest standards for ensuring access to medicines.

“Wholesalers understand that ensuring people in areas affected by disaster can continue to access the medicines they rely on to stay healthy is of paramount importance and the recent examples during the flooding in Queensland and fires in Tasmania underline the commitment of NPSA members to providing timely access to medicines in extraordinary circumstances.”

Symbion’s Townsville distribution centre responded to three emergency orders during the floods despite 75% of the town being incapacitated.

“The Townsville warehouse was able to supply full orders to 12 of the 18 pharmacies which remained open, which is a testament to our staff’s commitment to the healthcare industry and our customers,” said Rowan Luther, Symbion’s Distribution Centre Manager in Townsville.

“Griffiths Pharmacy Charters Towers expressed an urgent need for insulin due to the sudden influx of truck drivers stuck in town by surrounding flood waters. Thankfully the Townsville General Hospital Health Service connected us with the Australian Defence Force, whose helicopter was used to piggy back stock to the pharmacy.”

API also pulled out all stops to maintain service to one of North Central Queensland’s worst impacted communities, Julia Creek.

“The town was completely cut off by road due to flooding, which made normal deliveries impossible,” said local pharmacist Lorraine.

“Supplies got a bit tight but API were in constant contact, letting us know that they were working on an emergency delivery as quickly as possible.”

API National Transport and Procurement Manager John Smith said the team looked at various alternatives before engaging a local cattle musterer and utilising his helicopter to re-supply the Julia Creek Pharmacy.

“The team at our Cairns distribution centre, led by manager Ricci Massey, really went the extra mile by working with the community and local authorities to ensure supplies continued to affected towns despite the logistical difficulties,” he said.

“These situations evolve rapidly, so being able to respond in a disaster situation requires a lot of team work and planning to ensure communities can continue to receive critical medicine deliveries.”

Sigma’s Executive General Manager of Operations, Richard Church, said staff at the company’s Queensland distribution centres in Townsville and Berrinba worked closely with transport providers to ensure urgent orders were processed and delivered via air freight for all areas in Cairns and Townsville and as far west as Mount Isa and Cloncurry.

“Our teams across Queensland have put in a mountain of extra work to ensure that customers affected by the flooding were supported throughout the crisis and we are committed assisting in the ongoing recovery and clean-up process,” he said.

“Management also went above and beyond by personally delivering orders to Brisbane airport to meet tight air freight deadlines.”

In Tasmania, over 700 people evacuated during the peak of the fires sought emergency accommodation.

Symbion’s Hospital Service General Manager, Dean Martin, also needed to react quickly.

“In conjunction with the Department of Health and the Huonville Pharmacy, we were asked to provide numerous personal hygiene and everyday consumable items,” he said.

“We were able to provide essential toiletries including toilet paper, tooth brushes, soap, pacifiers and sunscreen.”

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