Pharmacists are receiving four calls a minute about rapid antigen tests, or RATs, and working “around the clock” to source them, the peak body says.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) says its members are stretched to breaking point as RAT shortages compound existing pandemic problems like staff shortages and other day-to-day health concerns.
“The holiday period is already a busy time for Australian pharmacists … and the ongoing predicament with RATs continues to place huge pressure on the profession,” PSA president Chris Freeman says.
Freeman says many pharmacists are working “around the clock” to secure stock of the tests, while juggling a huge number of inquiries about availability.
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“Members have reported receiving on average, four calls a minute in relation to RATs. This is simply not sustainable.”
Newcastle pharmacist Ben Weick says it’s been a tough time dealing with frustrated and furious customers.
“We would get abused every now and then for not having stock, not having a waitlist, or not putting any aside for anyone (just due to huge demand),” he says.
“We now have some stock and we have many that are grateful but a few who abuse us on price.”
Weick says they’ve noticed a price hike from their RAT suppliers, and unfortunately “costs have to be factored in” to the retail price.
He added that concession card-holders have been “demanding” their RATs — but the government program doesn’t start until Monday.
Former Small Business and Family Enterprise ombudsman Kate Carnell owned a pharmacy for 15 years. She says the pressures on pharmacists and staff are in some ways unprecedented.
“The great dilemma for pharmacy is that it’s retail, but it’s also a service industry and on the front line of healthcare,” she explains.
“Pharmacies feel an obligation to their customer, so they’ll stay open through thick and thin regardless of staff issues or stock shortages.”
Staff can be more likely to be exposed to a COVID-19 case, Carnell points out, because the first stop for someone who’s under the weather is oftentimes walking into the pharmacy.
“Normally when people are elderly, unwell, or mums with new babies, they’ll go to just to be confident about something, to work out if they need to go to the doctor,” she says.
And in a pandemic, Carnell says, “you can’t do pharmacy outside”.
Freeman’s message for people is to consider going to government testing clinics for antigen tests — which are free, he adds.
“I implore Australians to consider these services in order to alleviate pressure on our already-stretched pharmacist workforce, until stock shortages are solved,” he says.