‘This is a bad idea and puts staff and the public at risk’: Pharmacists resist COVID testing

Doug Hendrie

24/08/2020 3:08:09 PM

The Pharmacy Guild-backed plan for COVID testing in Queensland has hit a major roadblock – pharmacists.

Oral culture swab
Conducting COVID tests in a busy pharmacy ‘could actually increase the spread of the virus’, according to RACGP Queensland Chair Dr Bruce Willett.

Respondents to a large poll run by the Australian Journal of Pharmacy (AJP) overwhelmingly cited safety concerns in rejecting the Guild-supported plan.
The move to push for COVID testing in pharmacies has driven a wedge between the Guild, a powerful lobby group that represents a small number of wealthy pharmacy owners, and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA), the professional body that represents working pharmacists.
The PSA has now called on the Queensland Government to immediately halt planning for the trial, given the new COVID cluster emerging in the state. 
PSA National President Associate Professor Chris Freeman told newsGP the ‘very public promotion of the trial was inappropriate and sent a very dangerous message that could lead to people potentially with COVID-19 wondering into a pharmacy to get tested.’

‘Given the recent cluster in south-east Queensland, the goal posts have shifted, and it’s even more important that the Queensland Government put a pause on the planning for this trial, for the safety of the Queensland public, and safety of pharmacists and pharmacy staff,’ he said.

‘Since the Queensland trial was announced, we have had an overwhelming amount of feedback from pharmacists fearful for their own safety and that of their staff. 

‘Our members, and many Queensland pharmacists, have expressed grave concerns for their safety and the safety of their many patients who enter a pharmacy on a daily basis to receive medicines and care.’ 
The Pharmacy Guild supports Queensland’s highly controversial UTI antibiotic pharmacy prescribing trial, which is now running despite unified opposition from major medical groups such as the RACGP and the Australian Medical Association, and warnings from top infectious disease pharmacists.
The AJP poll asks ‘Do you support COVID-19 testing in pharmacies?’ and allows respondents to choose multiple answers. As of 24 August, there have been 1774 responses, including:

  • 72% – ‘No, this is a bad idea and puts staff and the public at risk’
  • 41% – ‘No, they don’t pay us enough’
  • 4% – ‘Yes, I think community pharmacies are appropriate centres for testing’.
While the poll is not scientific and is open to the public, it represents a groundswell of scepticism among pharmacists.
PSA National President Associate Professor Chris Freeman told the outlet he had ‘never seen an AJP poll so stark in its results’.
‘The poll demonstrates that pharmacists and pharmacy staff are very uncomfortable with the decision by the Queensland Government to promote COVID-19 testing in community pharmacies,’ he said.
Associate Professor Freeman also told AJP that social media posts indicate a lack of public support for the move.
He told newsGP there were a 'raft of problems to work through' before this service could be offered safely to patients, such as effective infection control and PPE available for health care workers running this service as well as guidance and funding in line with GP-run Respiratory Clinics conducting COVID-19 testing.

RACGP Queensland Chair Dr Bruce Willett told newsGP that while the college supports more COVID testing, it is important to do so safely – and without potentially spreading the virus further.
He said it would be a ‘worst-case scenario’ for a person with symptoms to walk through a busy shopping centre to the pharmacy, and to then see the pharmacist in the open at the back of the store with other members of the public nearby.
‘COVID testing is known to be an aerosol-generating procedure that requires high levels of PPE. To do this in a crowded pharmacy could actually increase the spread of the virus,’ Dr Willett said. 
‘There are genuine concerns about whether retail pharmacists could meet these requirements and ensure the safety of patients coming in for COVID-19 tests, the safety of their other customers, and pharmacy staff.
‘Even doing opportunistic testing could be potentially dangerous for pharmacists and clients and burn up PPE [personal protective equipment] at an alarming rate at a time when supplies are very short.
‘Testing sites need considerable infection control procedures in place, including the correct use of PPE and environmental cleaning.
‘Doctors and nurses are experienced in the use of PPE, which requires training and is not a simple task.’
Dr Willett said Pharmacy Guild support for the pilot demonstrates that the lobby group is ‘out of step with pharmacists actually working in pharmacies’.
‘The Guild has shown scant concern for the wellbeing of working pharmacists,’ he said.
When newsGP asked the Queensland Department of Health how it could guarantee the safety of pharmacists and the public in retail pharmacy settings and for more detail about the pilot, a spokesperson said the details of the trial ‘are still being worked out in consultation with the Pharmacy Guild and other stakeholders’.
‘Pharmacists and pharmacy staff involved in testing will use personal protective equipment and hygiene measures to protect themselves and other customers,’ the spokesperson told newsGP.
‘Opportunistic testing of people with mild respiratory symptoms provides an additional layer of surveillance to Queensland Health.’
The spokesperson said the trial would augment current federal, state and private health programs by ‘specifically making testing available to minimally symptomatic people attending pharmacies for treatment, and providing accessible additional venues for testing’.
The Queensland Branch of the Pharmacy Guild was approached for comment.
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Dr Amirizal Bin Elias   25/08/2020 7:13:33 AM

"that's sacrifice we are willing to make!! "/Sarcasm, reference - Lord Farquaad in Shrek 2001

Dr Anselm-Zixton Okechukwu Ogbujieze   25/08/2020 10:18:41 AM

Of course, they'll leave the dangerous work for doctors, while demanding to issue scripts and flu vaccines.

Dr Anselm-Zixton Okechukwu Ogbujieze   25/08/2020 10:35:06 AM

Of course, they'll leave the dangerous work for doctors, while demanding to issue scripts and flu vaccines.

Dr Robert Douglas   25/08/2020 11:12:46 AM

Skim the cream without having to do the bad stuff. Bet they don't knock back the funding for undertaking other task substitutions though.

Dr Ian Mark Light   25/08/2020 2:47:42 PM

At Harvard they are advocating for rapid antigen tests that can be taken by self tested by a saliva sample and put onto to a sink like pregnancy tests
Fifteen minute turn around and low price
On you tube site MED CRAMM by a doctor Mina MD PHD
Worth a look and intriguing stuff seems to have integrity .

SD   25/08/2020 3:33:08 PM

Our GP’s, hospital doctors, nurses and paramedics in Victoria and NSW are in frontline and deserve applause. Our registrars, HMO’s and Interns also deserve big applause serving our patients in COVID wards without complaining about their pay.

Dr Maureen Anne Howard   26/08/2020 1:16:12 PM

Staff and pharmacists are not trained to do this, I think it's a bad idea. They provide an essential service and could not afford to be shut down if Covid cases visit their shops.

Dr David Matthew Schepisi   27/08/2020 12:18:20 AM

Amazing! The only thing pharmacists don't want to take off GPs!