National President’s Message: COVID-19 Update

3 June 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has passed 6 million reported cases globally, and the global death toll is nearing 400,000 people. As other comparable countries have struggled to get the pandemic under control their health systems have been overwhelmed. In contrast, our health system and its health professionals pivoted to quickly create capacity which thankfully has not been needed.


Australia can credit its extraordinary success in supressing COVID-19 to date to several factors: decisive and collaborative leadership; respect for medical evidence and population health expertise, health systems designed to protect public health, and the natural advantage of being an island nation. Perhaps most significantly, Australia success comes from a community of over 25 million people who have collectively recognised, respected and adhered to extraordinary tough stay-at-home public health orders.


Our success hasn’t however been without its problems. The issues faced by many of you including panic buying, inadequate infection control support, legislative disparities between governments, communication of regulatory changes and the abuse and threats that you were subjected to informed PSA’s submission to the COVID-19 Senate Inquiry. These problems are opportunities to better prepare for future health emergencies, which PSA detailed in 17 recommendations within our submission which was lodged last week.


As society adjusts to a post-lockdown COVID-normal, some potentially long-term benefits are emerging. The embedding of telehealth and electronic prescribing as mainstream features of our health system will have long term benefits for the health of Australians and the health professionals who serve them. There is hope last Friday’s announcement to replace COAG with the National Cabinet will usher in an era of reform, reduced red-tape and focus on outcomes rather than process, particularly in our health systems.


I encourage you to reflect on what silver-linings you want to embed permanently to take into your COVID-normal and post-COVID practice.


Supporting you with electronic prescriptions: starting now


The Australian Digital Health Agency has published further details of how electronic prescription communities of interest will be established through June this year to support the phased implementation.


Communities of interest are effectively an area where real-life testing is undertaken on a system. For electronic prescriptions, communities of interest will help demonstrate how well prescription delivery services, prescribe, dispense, and third-party intermediary applications integrate and work together. Anglesea, where the first primary care electronic prescription was prescribed and dispensed in May, is the first community of interest with more being established during June.


While initially, the electronic prescribing communities of interest will only test the token model, the Active Script List Model will begin to be tested in communities of interest from August 2020.


If you know a prescriber who is keen to get on board with electronic prescriptions, I encourage those of you who are pharmacy owners or managers to reach out to your software vendors to help you get ready and possibly be part of a community of interest.


Last week’s webinar saw very high interest with so many of you having questions regarding electronic scripts and how they will be implemented. Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of questions we weren’t able to get through everyone’s queries in the allocated time, but there are lots of options over the next few weeks to help you get the information you need.


PSA’s new electronic prescribing support line is staffed by experienced pharmacists who have access to the latest workflow information on how to adopt electronic prescriptions. I encourage you to contact them with your questions via 1300 955 162 (8:30am to 5:00pm AEST, Monday to Friday) or email ep@psa.org.au.


There will also be further webinars hosted by PSA and the Agency, as well as our dedicated electronic prescribing webpage: www.psa.org.au/ep.


Looking for some career innovation and inspiration?


Tonight, Lauren Burton, PSA’s early career pharmacist board director, will chat with 10 pharmacists who have each taken very different paths through the profession. Lauren will help draw out what a ‘normal’ day in their practice looks like, what drives them in their professional role, and how they forged their path.


I strongly encourage all members, particularly early career pharmacists and those at a career cross-roads to join, what should be, a magnificent showcase of the profession tonight.


You can register for the live session here.


Opioid changes


Yesterday’s PBS June updates saw revision to listing of many opioid medicines, including paracetamol/codeine and tramadol listings. These changes include introduction of streamlined authorities, reduced quantities and reduced repeats.


As with all PBS changes, there are a few bumps in the transition period as it can take time for prescribers to become aware of the change – particularly if prescribing software is not updated on the first day of the month. I encourage you to reach out to prescribers to help communicate this change.


The PBS changes represent an opportunity to talk with patients and prescribers about potentially inappropriate prescribing of opioid medicines – particularly where large quantities or a large number of repeats are prescribed for either PBS or non-PBS supply.


Opioids are major contributor to medicine harm in Australia. These PBS changes are one of a series of initiatives being rolled out in coming months to improve medicine safety in the prescribing, supply and use of opioids – such as reduced pack sizes, real-time prescription monitoring and updated guidelines. PSA continues to work collaboratively with government agencies and key medicine stakeholders to lead and embed these important changes which are so important in reducing the harms caused by opioid medicines in the Australian community.


Bushfire recovery: supporting resilience


As the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (more commonly known as the ‘Bushfire Royal Commission’) hearings are underway, there has been a renewed political focus on helping affected Australians recover from the trauma of summer. I wrote a few weeks ago about mental health first aid training available to pharmacists in bushfire affection regions of Australia. The training, supported by the federal government, ran online over a number of video sessions.


I’m pleased to report these workshops were completely booked out with extremely positive feedback from those of you who participated. I was particularly taken with some of your feedback, including the following reflective post:

“I found myself constantly thinking back to past HMRs where these skills would have been super handy or perhaps I tried to apply these skills unknowingly, but now I have a framework to help me nut out the issues.”


I’m proud PSA has been involved in such important work which will help those of you in affected areas support recovery and build resilience in your communities.


Stay up to date


Stay tuned to our social media channels and dedicated COVID-19 microsite to stay up to date with the information you need.



Associate Professor Chris Freeman

National President

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia