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'Beyond dire': Chemists overwhelmed by Covid test supply problems

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More than 90 per cent of pharmacies in Australia have reported problems trying to find enough rapid antigen tests to provide their customers, according to the industry union.

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A picture of an overworked and frustrated pharmacy sector is quickly emerging as the demand for both RAT tests and Covid-19 vaccines soars while supply problems show no sign of improving.

The union representing employee pharmacists, Professional Pharmacists Australia, said a survey showed how staff were “buckling” under heavy workloads and pressure to supply RATs and vaccines.

It said the survey found more than 90 percent of its members of report problems sourcing test kits. This is despite Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt assuring Australians last week the Government has secured more than 70 million rapid antigen tests “which will arrive throughout this month and the next”.

The complaints about a lack of test kits came as Health Minister Yvette D’Ath slammed as “absolutely appalling” a federal Health Department ad claiming there were free RATs at state testing clinics when Queensland had not received its supplies.

On a day Queensland announced its biggest daily Covid-19 toll with 16 deaths, Ms D’Ath didn’t hold back over what she described as Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s “self serving” 30-second ad.

“To actually be running these (ads) knowing that there is not enough supply at our public testing clinics … is irresponsible,” she said.

“It is not Scott Morrison who is standing there at these testing clinics having to deal with the abuse of people who are unhappy because they can’t get a free test.

“To run these ads now, knowing this, is just … absolutely appalling and Scott Morrison should be apologising.”

Abut 86 per cent of the 400 pharmacists surveyed reported the vaccine roll-out was having a “significant” or “extreme” impact on their workload, while 75 per cent said having to provide RATs was also having a “significant” or “extreme” impact on their workload.

Many were also struggling to obtain enough vaccines to meet demand.

The survey results revealed what the union described as “widespread discontent within an industry burdened with ever-increasing responsibilities as a result of the Federal Government’s failure to prepare for the current outbreak”.

“This situation is beyond dire. Pharmacists are telling us they are extremely overworked and under significant pressure and that they do not have the supplies and equipment they need to do their jobs properly,” union chief Jill McCabe said.

“One pharmacist said they were only able to access 100 doses of the children’s vaccine every fortnight, despite being the only pharmacy in a district servicing several schools.

“Others spoke of the mounting pressure they were under, including one pharmacist who said there were not enough staff to handle ‘100 phone calls an hour asking for RATs whilst doing 80 vaccinations a day on top of the regular workload of a 400+/day script pharmacy’.

The survey also found that 79 per cent of pharmacists believed their workplace was not adequately staffed to deal with the additional demands being placed on it, with many citing high employee absentee rates due to Covid-19 infection or isolation requirements.

Professional Pharmacists of Australia president Dr Geoff March said plans for pharmacies to be able to conduct “point-of-care” Covid testing should be put on hold to allow for more urgent consultation.

“This is unsound policy, which again demonstrates a lack of planning,” he said.

“Providing point-of-care testing in pharmacies would have serious implications for both staff and the general public given that pharmacies have such a key role administering vaccinations as well as providing other health services.

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