New powers for pharmacists during COVID-19 crisis
A Tamworth pharmacist has cautiously welcomed new "powers" but warns a 24/7 chemist would not work in a regional area. Will Campbell, the director of Terry White Chemmart Calala and East Tamworth Pharmacy, said the last few weeks have been manic as the COVID-19 impacts flow on to Tamworth. "It's been incredibly hard to keep up with the increasing demand, especially when people tried stockpiling," he said. "It's been a huge burden on pharmacies and suppliers." The NSW Government is addressing the oversupply of prescription and over-the-counter medicines with recently introduced new limits to ensure equitable access. For example, salbutamol inhalers (such as the Ventolin brand) must now only be supplied (when over-the-counter by the pharmacist) as a single pack for a medically diagnosed lung condition. Mr Campbell said they imposed the limit a while ago as people tried to panic buy items such as panadol and Ventolin. He said that on Monday there were about 60 people waiting for Ventolin and they only got 20 or so in as wholesalers were trying to catch up with demand. NSW pharmacists now also have extra powers enabling them to dispense medicines without a prescription and can now stay open 24/7, as the state fights COVID-19. Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard said a special authority had been granted to community pharmacists to assist people who can't access their GP. "It gives our trusted community pharmacists the ability to dispense when people are not able to contact their GP to arrange a prescription at a time when we want everyone to stay home as much as possible," he said. Mr Campbell said he welcomed the new policies but cautioned it was "uncharted territory" for pharmacists and doctors who want to make sure this is implemented correctly. He added the dispensing ability was targeted towards people who had chronic conditions and already had been given a script but would not be allowed for stronger medication, especially those that could be addictive. "The biggest limitation is our technology - we are still on the days of paper scripts and faxing when we should have moved well beyond that," Mr Campbell said. "Hopefully this is a shakeup for the industry to adopt technology to deal with the issue and whatever comes up in the future." Mr Campbell, however, cautioned against 24-hour pharmacies in regional areas. "It sounds great in principle, but have to staff it, you have to a pharmacist on-site, and it's not as simple as it sounds," he said. "Pharmacy resources are stretched anyway and in regionals area like Tamworth, going 24 hours is not going to help. "My staff are tired and stretched as it is, they are quite emotionally drained, and it's going to be a marathon, not a sprint to deal with this." Mr Campbell acknowledged his customer base has been exceptional for the most part, but there are still quite a few people who are worried and stressed. "There are still people who are worried, and a local of understanding is a put a lot of pressure they can get frustrated," he said. "However, we are helping in whatever way we can." Mr Campbell also reminded people to take advantage of an initiative announced earlier this year, enabling pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to anyone over 10 years.