News National ‘Gone home in tears’: Pharmacies rake in COVID-19 cash but safety questions linger

‘Gone home in tears’: Pharmacies rake in COVID-19 cash but safety questions linger

Many pharmacists have raised safety questions about disinfecting procedures. Picture: TND
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The coronavirus pandemic has fuelled a national record in pharmaceutical spending, but employees report some businesses are unsafe with many workers saying they are on the verge of quitting.

One in five members of Professional Pharmacists Australia said pharmacies were not being properly disinfected amid the crisis.

That’s despite more than a third of pharmacists believing an infected person had visited their business and their boss’s response had jeopardised health and safety.

The concerns were highlighted in a questionnaire distributed to 640 pharmacists and released the same week ABS data revealed pharmaceutical, cosmetic and toiletry goods spending reached a record $1.93 billion in March – a rise of more than $400 million, or 29 per cent, in the last month.

Of those surveyed, one in five did not think their pharmacy had procedures in place for cleaning and disinfecting their surroundings.

“That should have been really one of the first basic procedures that pharmacies should have got under their belt,” union representative Geoff March told The New Daily.

They may still be “catching up” considering Australia was overwhelmed by rapid outbreaks, Mr March said.

“I’ve worked in pharmacies and we do the general cleaning stuff, but probably not to the level that was required or is required now with the pandemic.

“And so I was surprised to see there were some pharmacies who weren’t following what I’d expect for disinfecting protocols,” he said.

Mr March is concerned about the consequences of the lack of coronavirus cleaning protocols in some pharmacies. Photo: Supplied

The manager of a pharmacy in regional Australia, who asked not to be named, said he never quite knows if they’re doing enough to keep their staff and customers safe.

That’s because “the instructions on what we need to be doing and which protective equipment we need to be using changes from week to week, depending on what the recommendations are”, the pharmacist said.

“It’s hard to know which guidelines to follow. The state and the federal recommendations are always different,” he added.

The survey also found the coronavirus pandemic has overloaded more than 240 Australian pharmacists with so much work that they are tossing up whether to quit.

Already, close to 100 workers intend on leaving the profession to escape the burden of too many tasks, with more than 460 pharmacists saying they have been dispensing more prescriptions due to COVID-19.

The pharmacist manager said his limited ability to dispense Ventolin and other medications, in part due to a lack of stock, had visibly angered some customers.

There’s been times where I’ve just gone home in tears because of the workload and the way that customers react to all the new regulations and things that we have to implement,” he said.

“Some days, you get to the end and you’re like ‘so what did I actually do today?’ Survived is probably more a description of some days
than anything else.”

About 67 per cent of people said their intention to leave their jobs was in part due to how their employer was responding to COVID-19.

About the same percentage of people reported not having enough staff to operate their pharmacy over 24 hours, with 28 per cent admitting they were also lacking workers to manage current hours.

Of those surveyed, about 302 did not have enough staff for “professional requirements”, 269 were working more hours than before the pandemic, 238 had no time for a break, and 129 were having to work overtime without pay.