Skip to content

Free up pharmacists to help disaster victims, researchers say

Laws need to be changed to allow pharmacists to fully support their local communities during natural disasters such as bushfires, researchers claim.

Kaitlyn Watson from QUT’s School of Clinical Sciences has led a review of laws in Australia and around the world governing pharmacists in the wake of natural disasters.

Dr Watson said, in natural disaster situations, residents were often not thinking about medicines and other necessities they might need, but they soon would.

“Previous research has found patients regularly leave without a range of things, not just medications — if patients are relying on an oxygen supply, or a dialysis machine, or even reading glasses, all of these things that are health-related are often left behind by people fleeing a disaster,” Dr Watson said.

A number of different laws govern what pharmacists can and can not do in disaster situations.

Dr Watson said the key limitation was laws that restricted pharmacists to giving patients a three-day supply, which had a number of knock-on effects.

“For a pensioner who left their home during a disaster quickly and didn’t bring their medications, currently they can get a three-day script but they no longer get the concession price, they pay the full price,” she said.

“There’s also the psychological trauma of having to come back every three days to get more medication.”

Dr Watson pointed to the US example, where pharmacists are granted a 30-day window to provide medicine to patients without a script, a measure put in place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Ultimately, Dr Watson said, if people could not get their medicine through a pharmacy they would inevitably wind up at a hospital, which would likely be stretched to capacity by the disaster which had displaced people in the first place.

“Overcrowded emergency departments are quite common in disasters and patients that only need a chronic disease prescription really shouldn’t be there,” she said.

“But if they’ve got no alternative, where else do they go?”

The federal Department of Health recently issued emergency advice to pharmacists in areas affected by the ongoing bushfire crisis in Queensland and NSW.

The research looked at laws governing pharmacy responses to disasters in Canada, Britain, the US and New Zealand, as well as Australia.

Dr Watson said Australia was ahead of the curve in allowing pharmacists to temporarily relocate if their premises had been affected by a disaster, with almost every state and territory having a version of that law in place.

The research was co-authored with Dr Judith Singleton and professors Vivienne Tippett and Lisa Nissen and has been published in the Australian Health Review journal.

Share this article:
Scroll To Top