Does Bendigo need a 24-hour pharmacy?

Bendigo Day and Night Pharmacy staffers Carliah Tarling, Stephanie Sheahan, Lareina Djurovitch and Katherine Hancy. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO
Bendigo Day and Night Pharmacy staffers Carliah Tarling, Stephanie Sheahan, Lareina Djurovitch and Katherine Hancy. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

How strong is the business case for a 24-hour pharmacy in Bendigo?

A state government initiative has UFS Pharmacies contemplating just that. 

Funding is available for 20 around-the-clock pharmacies, under a $28.7 million Victorian Supercare Pharmacies Initiative. 

Five Supercare Pharmacies have already opened, including UFS Dispensaries in Ballarat. 

Another seven around-the-clock pharmacies will open this year, and eight more in 2018.

Five of the 20 pharmacies will be in regional Victoria. 

Victorian Minister for Health Jill Hennessy said the next request for tenders to operate Supercare Pharmacies would be made in “coming months.”

UFS Pharmacies chief executive officer Michael Fleming believed there was a need for around-the-clock pharmacies.

“Whether it’s got the critical mass to be viable is yet to be seen,” he said. 

He said UFS Pharmacies was looking into the initiative.

“If we can provide the service, we would like to,” he said. 

Staffing, security and customer demand were among the most pressing considerations. 

Mr Fleming said he was unsure how often people needed a pharmacy late at night and during the early hours of the morning.

“If GPs are open later, that has relevance to our services,” he said. 

He was also keen to learn more about the support that would be available to pharmacies to provide around-the-clock services.

Bendigo Day and Night Pharmacy pharmacist-in-charge Katherine Hancy was of the impression the state government funding was short-term.

“It will only last for five years,” she said.

Supporting pharmacies to stay open until midnight could be an alternative, Ms Hancy said. 

“There’s not even a 24-hour supermarket [in Bendigo],” she said.

She said it would be “exceptionally difficult” to find staff to work the graveyard shift, particularly pharmacists.

“There are not that many pharmacists in Bendigo,” Ms Hancy said. 

“Security would be a massive issue.”

She found it interesting the initiative included a nurse on site between 6pm and 10pm, when there were doctor’s surgeries funded to be open until 10pm. 

The nursing service at Supercare Pharmacies would be free and available without an appointment.

Other options for medical advice included after hours doctor services and the nurse-on-call, Ms Hancy said.

But she said 24-hour pharmacies could potentially ease the pressure on hospitals, providing an alternative for patients seeking treatment for basic ailments. 

Bendigo Day and Night Pharmacy is open until 9pm, and is often busy until closing time.

Ms Hennessy said more than a quarter of people using the new Supercare Pharmacies would have gone to hospital otherwise. 

“Since the first five Supercare Pharmacies opened their doors, usage has grown month on month, with more than 19,000 visits already for vital care, advice, prescriptions and medicines,” she said.

“Families now have another option instead of a late night dash to emergency.”

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows more than 750,000 emergency room visits in 2014-2015 were not considered urgent.

About half of all ER patients sought care outside GP clinic opening hours.