Community pharmacy: Up to the challenge
By Suzanne Greenwood
This year has put a strong focus on the role of community pharmacists and their staff across Australia during disasters.
The widespread bushfire emergency of 2019-20 continues to affect the lives of many people and it is important that we take the lessons learned from these fires and implement policies and procedures to ensure we are better prepared for such occurrences in the future.
During the bushfires, I was constantly in awe at the accounts of how pharmacists and pharmacy staff rose to the occasion and went above and beyond to help patients maintain access to their medications and pharmacy services.
We saw urgent deliveries by private boats, the navy, helicopters and military aircraft. We saw pharmacists and staff working by candlelight to pack medicines and we saw pharmacies stay open to help patients even while the homes of the pharmacy staff were threatened by fires.
It is no exaggeration to label these people as local heroes.
And yet there is no formal role for pharmacists in disaster planning or recovery.
The Guild is hoping to rectify this through our submission to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.
This is an important Royal Commission which aims to ensure we don’t repeat past mistakes and are better prepared for the future. It also needs to develop protocols and procedures to help speedy recovery from disasters.
Through our submission we highlight that the Guild is committed to working with all governments, agencies, stakeholders and community groups through the provision of pharmacy services to work toward a swift recovery for those communities affected by this disaster and for future natural disasters that may arise.
The Royal Commission has acknowledged our submission provides valuable information relating to health in the context of a natural disaster, and has invited the Guild to participate in a consultation session this Friday with the Commission to further explore the basis and scope of the recommendations advanced in our submission.
Australians expect and deserve a primary health system fit for purpose during a time of disaster, crisis or emergency and acknowledging the role of pharmacists is pivotal to that objective. Recognising the critical frontline role pharmacists play during disasters and emergencies and utilising their training to its full extent, including in recovery, relief and future planning efforts, will help to ensure that all Australian communities have the best access to the essential medical services they need.
This should also see pharmacists playing a formal role in providing pre-emptive and real-time information on medicine and personal protective equipment shortages to feed into planning processes and decision-making at every stage of national emergencies such as bushfires.
We are not talking about reinventing the wheel here. With some 5.800 community pharmacies across the country – and 485 million patient visits a year – our sector has the accessible infrastructure in place to be able to respond to most disasters. Added to that is the fact that pharmacists are consistently ranked among the most trusted health professionals, and no-one can argue that trust during a disaster is vital.
Our position on the role of pharmacies has been underscored by the World Pharmacy Council which has released a paper, titled Pandemic Preparedness – Optimising Use of the Pharmacy Network, on the important role of community pharmacies as a vital part of the response to pandemics.
According to the Council, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted several ways to optimise the contribution of pharmacies, particularly in relation to medicine and protective equipment supply.
The paper says there is a need for a greater focus by governments on reducing preventable hospital presentations by allowing pharmacists to adopt their full scope of practice, for example vaccination for preventable diseases, common ailment schemes, specialty medicine dispensing, and chronic disease management services.
“Whilst other elements of primary healthcare (namely General Practice) have transitioned to telemedicine, members of the public have become more reliant on the bricks and mortar network of community pharmacies as they are well geographically distributed and have largely remained open and available for immediate advice without the need for appointments.”
The President of the World Pharmacy Council – and Pharmacy Guild National President – George Tambassis said: “For all of its disruption and tragic casualties, the COVID-19 pandemic has also provided a catalyst to consider ways in which our health system and our society can cope better with such a crisis. Community pharmacies in comparable countries around the world have experienced the same challenges and stressful operating conditions – and together we can learn and build on that experience – for the benefit of patients worldwide.”
I look forward to bringing you further updates about how community pharmacies are working to service and protect the communities in which they operate.
Source Contact: The Guild