Overworked pharmacists struggle to access COVID-19 vaccines and RATs

Media Release
18 January 2022

Overworked pharmacists struggle to access COVID-19 vaccines and RATs Pharmacists across the country are buckling under soaring workloads and the pressure of securing COVID-19 vaccines and testing supplies, as more than 90 per cent report problems sourcing in-demand Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs).

A survey conducted by Professional Pharmacists Australia, the representative body for employee pharmacists, has revealed 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.

According to the survey, 86 per cent of pharmacists reported the vaccine roll-out was having a “significant” or “extreme” impact on their workload, while 75 per cent said having to provide Rapid Antigen Tests, known as RATs, was also having a “significant” or “extreme” impact on their workload. In addition to the 94 per cent having problems sourcing RATs, a third of the 400-plus respondents were struggling to obtain enough vaccines to meet demand.

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. Almost 50 per cent claimed their workplace did not have adequate health and safety measures in place to keep employees and the community safe, with 25 per cent of pharmacists having to buy their own PPE for work.

Professionals Australia CEO Jill McCabe said the survey results reveal a pharmacy system buckling under the weight of ever-increasing responsibilities, without adequate consultation with working pharmacists.

“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,” Ms 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’.

“We are in the midst of a pandemic, and we cannot afford working pharmacists to be overburdened in such a way.”

The warning comes as the latest change to COVID-19 testing protocols, announced by the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA) last week, paved the way for pharmacists to conduct point-of-care COVID tests in pharmacies.

Dr Geoff March, President of Professional Pharmacists Australia, urged the policy be put on hold pending proper consultation with the profession.

“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.

“This poses a serious health risk, and I am not convinced it has been adequately thought through.” Dr March said the increasing demands placed upon the profession were not sustainable and required urgent action.

“This survey confirms that pharmacists are stretched, exhausted and anxious about being at work.

The situation facing pharmacy is dire and we need to ensure that the health and safety of pharmacists is better protected so they can continue to provide vital health care to our community at this time.

Media contact: Tim O’Halloran 0409 059 617