As NSW records another day of skyrocketing Covid cases due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant – 97 new cases of community transmission, “with 29 of those infectious while in the community”, according to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian – the President of the NSW Branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, David Heffernan tells Retail Pharmacy that pharmacies in the hotspot areas of NSW are currently “under duress”.
This comes as GPs move towards telephone consultations, with the Morrison Government announcing an extension to telehealth consultations for Australians in Covid-19 hotspots.
“As everyone knows pharmacies have stayed open during all of the lockdowns, we’ve had but in order to do that, it requires a lot of protective measures to come in and a lot of innovative pivoting,” says Mr Heffernan.
Mr Heffernan says that with many doctors’ surgeries shutting their doors and utilising telehealth, this has added: “even more traffic flow onto these pharmacies”.
He says that while pharmacies “have been fantastic and integral in keeping the health infrastructure alive”, the extra foot traffic has put extra pressure onto pharmacies, who have also had to adjust to “strict rules on distancing and Covid compliance”.
“If a patient is in your pharmacy for more than 15 minutes and turns out to be positive, that means that all the staff in that pharmacy are deemed a close contact and they must isolate for 14 days,” says Mr Heffernan. “That means many pharmacies would close.”
“So, they improvise by having people at the front; they’ve got people lining up down the street and they’re only allowing a certain number of people in [to the pharmacy] for a limited amount of time; they’re taking orders from outside and encouraging phone calls [for advice] and deliveries [for medications],” he says.
And while the NSW Guild is putting pressure on government organisations to supply pharmacies with the adequate equipment to remain operational during this difficult time, Mr Heffernan points out inadequacies in the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) “because of the delay in sourcing it through the PHNs [Primary Health Networks]”.
“Some pharmacies in Fairfield have had to source their own PPE,” says Mr Heffernan. “They have equipped themselves with PPE.”
Have symptoms? Get tested and stay home
Mr Heffernan reiterates that the current “environment of panic” exacerbated by the limited face-to-face appointments available with doctors, is adding unprecedented stress on overstretched pharmacies, putting them at potential risk of exposure to Covid.
“People even with mild symptoms are going into their pharmacy and are very worried, where they should be staying at home,” says Mr Heffernan.
While the community is encouraged to get tested “if you’ve got the most minimal of symptoms”, at today’s press conference, NSW Health Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant appealed to the community to “reduce mobility and reduce our interaction with others”, to help “bring this situation under control and see a decline in infectious cases in the community”.
“Every time you leave the house this weekend, please consider that the person you may come in contact with has Covid. So, make sure you’re putting your mask on well before you enter indoors,” says Dr Chant.
“If you’re outdoors and you can’t socially distance, put on a mask and keep that social distancing as you’re shopping and moving around for those absolutely critical things.
“And remember that we have also seen people go to the chemist shops when they’ve had symptoms of Covid.
“Don’t go to the chemist shop [if you have symptoms]. Get tested and obviously if you need healthcare, ring up and try and get someone from outside your household to pick up any scripts or any other critical medications for you and drop it off,” continues Dr Chant.
NSW vaccine rollout
Mr Heffernan says there are several locations in NSW where pharmacists are able to vaccinate as soon as these pharmacies receive the vaccines.
“They changed the vaccination standard for pharmacists to be able to administer [the vaccine] to those over 40 yesterday [15 July] and so, as soon as they get the vaccines they can vaccinate as long as they’ve completed the Covid-19 [training] module – the same Covid module that doctors and nurses have to complete,” says Mr Heffernan.
He adds that “because of the situation in Sydney, they’re fast-tracking those pharmacies in the Fairfield, Canterbury, Liverpool LGAs” initially.
“That will be extended to the greater, broader Western Sydney – Central Coast and Wollongong over the coming weeks, and the rest of the state after that,” he says.
While this comes as a positive step forward, Mr Heffernan says that the whole rollout process has been “very political, which is sad because in my opinion in pandemics, politics needs to be kept right out of it because we’re dealing with people’s lives”.