This year will long be remembered as one of adversities and challenges – among them drought, storms, bushfires and now COVID-19.
But it should also be remembered as year when the value of community pharmacists as local heroes came to be more fully recognised.
The local pharmacy has always been an integral part of rural, regional and remote healthcare.
But the recent challenges have highlighted the extra lengths community pharmacists and their staff go to, often unheralded, to help their patients.
The COVID-19 crisis has had a major impact on pharmacies and how they interact with their patients. Each pharmacy has developed its own unique structures and safety precautions to ensure they continue to operate.
Many have introduced or expanded home delivery services for people self-isolation and the expansion of telehealth services has provided new opportunities for pharmacists to continue to provide services and advice to patients.
Hannah Mann of Kimberley Pharmacy Services highlights the added challenges for rural, regional, and remote pharmacists.
“COVID-19 has basically turned our whole way of operating upside down,” she said.
“We are having to do medication checks remotely while also performing services like mediation reviews remotely while also re-educating our patients on how they access medications from clinics during this pandemic
“With medications we can’t have the face-to-face conversations with our patients that have been so much a part of our service delivery. Our patients would come into the clinics to pick their medicines on a regular basis and this meant they may come in every week or fortnight for their various medications.”
With COVID-19, however, this practice had to stop to minimise risk to the community and health professionals providing services at the clinics.
“We have had to impress upon our patients that we don’t want well people in the clinics. We brought this change in medication supply a number of weeks ago and it is working well. Our patients are following this process and understand that it is a risk that we just can’t afford to take.
“So now we give them all their meds to cover their use for four weeks so they don’t need to come in as often.”
During the bushfires, pharmacies opened in evacuation centres to keep patients supplied, often having to ferry supplies from their pharmacies – closed because of the imminent danger from the fires – to the centres.
They coordinated with groups such as the Pharmacy Guild as well as couriers, wholesalers, contractor/delivery people, police, emergency services, health departments and the army to get medicines where they were needed.
Some examples of pharmacists and their staff going above and beyond include:
- Danielle Campbell in Narooma who spent three days in an evacuation centre solving problems, working with local doctors, and running back and forth from the pharmacy which had been closed, noting that all this while Danielle’s own home was under threat.
- Tim Rudd at Ulladulla who delivered medicines to a yacht which then sailed the supplies to Manyana which had been cut off from normal road access.
- Jeff Soo at Ulladulla, who opened his store at Beachside on New Year’s Day despite having no power, as the town was being swamped by evacuees from the south.
- Three Capital Chemist stores in Canberra arranging a delivery of Ventolin inhalers to an unrelated store in Merimbula when wholesaler deliveries couldn’t get through.
- Stores opening after the fire without power or communications to meet customer needs; just for medicines and dose administration aids - but nappies, formula, and even jellybeans when food was scarce.
- Stores packing Webster-paks by torchlight, heating their sealing iron with a camping stove.