National President’s Message: COVID-19 Update

12 May 2020


Friday’s release of the Roadmap to a COVID Safe Australia marks a significant shift in Australia’s response to COVID-19. It marks significant achievements in Australia’s work to supress transmission of COVID-19 in the community. It marks a shift towards reopening businesses in forced hibernation. And it marks a shift towards social and family interactions.


Both from a sense of achievement and risk, the key change is that it marks a shift towards exponentially more human-to-human interaction in the Australian community.


All federal, state and territory leaders have reinforced, repeatedly, that this represents risk of increased transmission of COVID-19 and the risk of outbreaks. They have emphasised the roadmaps each jurisdiction is adopting are incremental stages.


As frontline health providers and as members of the Australian community you have an important role to play in helping your community transition to a COVID-Safe ways of living.


As people start to mingle more in returning to workplaces, cafes, restaurants, gyms, schools, swimming pools, shopping centres and on public transport; physical distancing, hand hygiene and staying home if they are sick is more important now than ever.


Be familiar with your local restrictions. Understand how the roadmap will roll-out in your area. Make more permanent changes to your work environment to make it COVID-Safe. Keep referring anyone with even mild respiratory symptoms to testing centres. Reinforce public health messages message with your patients constantly.


Collectively we can all make a huge difference in making Australia COVID safe.


Electronic prescriptions


Last week marked a significant milestone towards the introduction of electronic prescriptions. The first genuine and legally valid electronic prescription was created, stored and dispensed last week in Angelsea, Victoria.


Unlike digital image prescriptions, which are – sometimes poor quality – electronic reproductions of paper prescriptions, electronic prescriptions are completely paperless. They will reduce transcription errors and interpretation errors. They will also help consumers access their prescriptions where and when they want them.


PSA has been working with the Australian Digital Health Agency (the Agency), for some time on the workflow, support and resources needed to help with an effective and smooth transition to electronic prescriptions. I will continue to keep you updated in coming weeks and months as we welcome this evolution in pharmacy practice.


In the leadup to the introduction of electronic prescriptions at the end of the month, I’m pleased to be hosting this week’s Wednesday webinar, in partnership with the Agency to go through the important things you need to know, and answer all your questions.


Registration is open to all pharmacists, and available here.


Secure messaging


As electronic prescriptions advance towards its go-live date, work continues in the development of secure messaging systems. Secure messaging is the safe, encrypted transfer of information between health professionals; more secure, convenient and timely than current communication methods such as post and fax.


PSA is working with the Agency to help ensure the systems and technology work for pharmacists, and is seeking your input on what you need the system to do, and your insight into the current way you send and receive information to/from other health professionals. This can include routine sharing of records and data between services (e.g. faxing a dispensing history or Continued Dispensing Notice) or actual person-person communication such as contacting a prescriber directly about an issue or for additional information.


I encourage you to participate in the survey which is open until 17 May.


Mental health support for bushfire affected Australians


Last summer’s horrific bushfire season created significant individual and collective trauma for affected communities. While the media coverage of the recovery has been muted somewhat by COVID-19, colleagues in those areas have described to me the pain and struggle which those communities have and continue to experience.


I’m therefore pleased to report that PSA is partnering with the Australian Government to upskill pharmacists and pharmacy support staff in bushfire-affected areas, to support mental health in communities affected by the 2019-20 bushfires.


Pharmacists are often a first point of contact for trauma-affected communities and Mental Health First Aid training aims to improve frontline workers’ ability to support community members, promote their own resilience and psychological recovery from the 2019-20 bushfires, and support the resilience and wellbeing of frontline workers’ and their employers.


The course has both an eLearning component and two (2) virtual workshops of 2.5 hours each regarding the symptoms, causes and evidence-based treatments for mental health conditions, the early warning signs of mental illness, possible crisis situations arising from mental health problems, addressing crisis situations and the importance of intervening before a crisis develops.


The course is fully funded for pharmacists in affected areas and is being run during May and June. Details the dates for the two-part workshop for your area and logistics are available here.


Scheduling changes announced: triptans and paracetamol SR


The TGA late last week released a series of final scheduling decisions, announcing the following changes relevant to pharmacists:

  • Sumatriptan 50mg (2 doses): New Schedule 3 entry from 1 February 2021
  • Zolmitriptan 2.5mg (2 doses): New Schedule 3 entry from 1 February 2021
  • Mometasone 0.1% (up to 15g): New Schedule 3 entry from 1 June 2020
  • Paracetamol modified-release (up to 665mg: Packs of up to 100 tabs become Schedule 3 on 1 June 2020


I welcome these changes, particularly in regard to improving access to migraine medicines for people with stable migraine given the immediate need for symptom relieving medicines when a migraine strikes. As new Pharmacist Only Medicines, PSA will be preparing guidance documents to support safe, appropriate supply of these products.


To be clear, these changes remain well within the scope of practice of pharmacists, and I have encouraged the medical profession to refrain from providing comment outside their own scope of practice, that is the training and competencies of pharmacists.


As we all know, acute presentations like migraines don’t always present 9am to 5pm, Mondays to Fridays.


I encourage you to start socialising the change for modified release paracetamol to patients now to reduce confusion in June.


Pharmacists advice line


Following your feedback, we have worked to improve the way in which we respond to member practice queries. One of ways we are doing this is through the launch of a direct pharmacist-to-pharmacist advice line, offering professional advice from a senior pharmacist exclusively to PSA members.


Call on 1300 369 772 between 8.30am to 5.00pm AEST weekdays for professional advice and support on:

  • Practice-related queries including APF, professional practice standards and guidelines, competency standards
  • Ethics related queries including Code of Ethics and/or ethical dilemmas
  • Technical queries about medicines, compounding and medicine availability
  • Regulatory queries about legislation and policy matters
  • Registration queries including CPD requirements and AHPRA requirements.


Stay up-to-date


Our dedicated COVID-19 microsite has been updated with state-specific plans to the COVIDSafe Australia Roadmap released last week. PSA will continue to communicate changes with you via this site, social media and in this weekly column.



Associate Professor Chris Freeman
National President
Pharmaceutical Society of Australia