National President’s Message: COVID-19 Update
11 March 2020
As the COVID-19 situation unfolds, I would like to commend you and your fellow pharmacists for the mature way our profession has been tackling this health crisis. The Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, has asked that we pass on his thanks and has stated “I would like to thank all pharmacists as frontline health professionals and the role you are playing in assisting patients in the early phases of COVID-19 pandemic response”.
A number of PSA members have raised with me their struggles in accessing the right information about COVID-19. PSA has collated the latest available resources on our website and this is available here. This information will be updated on a regular basis, and I intend to write to you as members on a weekly basis with a summary of the developments on COVID-19.
I know that members are concerned about COVID-19 and at this stage the best way to access the most up to date information about COVID-19, including symptoms is through the Department of Health COVID-19 webpage. The Department of Health has also developed a comprehensive list of resources, including information in assessing people who have recently travelled internationally. These resources have been translated into a number of languages. This information is available here.
Access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is of the utmost priority and will only become more important over the coming weeks. I urge you all to contact your Primary Health Networks to request an adequate supply of PPE, to protect yourself, your colleagues and your patients. If you are having difficulties accessing PPE from any PHNs, please let me or your state branch office of PSA know of the difficulties, and we will follow this up on your behalf. There are restrictions regarding the use of these PPE and information about their intended use is available here.
Last week, I attended the primary care and aged care preparedness forums which discussed the COVID-19 outbreak and the next steps in Australia’s response. There are likely to be significant changes in how patients can access healthcare in the coming weeks and months and we will keep you informed of these changes. The challenges facing rural and remote Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities, and our aged care sector is of high priority. PSA highlighted the issues of availability of PPE stock, stockpiling of medicines, and the need for continuation of emergency dispensing of chronic disease medicines.
Announced today as part of the Government’s response to COVID-19 is a $2.4 billion health package including the establishment of telehealth items for GPs and the establishment of fever clinics in states and territories. The Commonwealth has also announced two specific measures related to pharmacists. The implementation of electronic prescriptions will be expedited over the short-term and a payment to community pharmacy for medicine home delivery will be applied for patients impacted by COVID-19. We will keep you informed as more details of these measures are worked through with the Department of Health.
I know many of you have raised concerns about requests from patients for multiple repeats of medicines, and regulation 49 prescriptions (previously regulation 24) which could result in inappropriate medicines stockpiling and possibly medicine shortages, if this behaviour continues. PSA has today participated in a Medicine Shortages Working Party meeting with the TGA and other key stakeholders in the medicine supply chain. We have heard the concerns of members and PSA wants to reassure pharmacists that we are actively working with National Pharmaceutical Services Association and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia to keep members up-to-date on the current supply situation. Pharmacists are encouraged to reassure patients that there is no need to panic and everything is being done to ensure medicines are available.
I encourage you to bookmark our dedicated webpage to keep you updated on the latest information and advice on COVID-19. This webpage can be accessed here and will be updated frequently. PSA will also keep members informed on our PSA and Early Career Pharmacist Facebook pages.
I encourage you to highlight any issues on the ground with the COVID-19 pandemic planning, and members should feel free to communicate with PSA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Associate Professor Chris Freeman