A Professional Pharmacists Australia survey shows pharmacists are overwhelmed and burnt out from excessive workloads and demands resulting from the pandemic.
Surging Omicron cases, increased demand of rapid-antigen tests and extra workloads that include administering COVID-19 vaccinations have all contributed to to pharmacists and their staff being left exhausted and stressed.
Read more: Daily cases in Greater Bendigo above 100
"For over two years, day-in, day-out, pharmacists have been on the front line in the battle against COVID-19, providing vaccinations, dispensing medications and providing information and other services to support the community's health and wellbeing throughout the pandemic," she said.
"The lack of adequate preparation for dealing with the Omicron variant led to a massive increase in the demand for pharmacy services, and already stretched employee pharmacists have reached breaking point.
"Over 79 per cent of pharmacists said their pharmacy was not adequately staffed to deal with the increased demands placed on it."
Amcal White Hills pharmacist Sanjay Jhaveri agreed the past two years had been stressful, particularly when it came to being sufficiently staffed.
"Work has increased and staff have been off because of COVID and scares from COVID," he said "(If you're a close contact), you're off until you are tested. So it is challenging in terms of staffing.
"On top of that we are offering (COVID) vaccinations, which is taking a pharmacist from the shop floor - that again puts stress on staff. Getting hold of (casual staff) to cover is difficult. It is hard to find staff just like that and getting causal pharmacist to cover has been impossible."
The survey showed 86 per cent of pharmacists said the vaccine roll out had a significant or extreme impact on their workloads.
For employee pharmacists delivering the vaccine, 91 per cent did not receive any extra payment.
"We are offering it like most pharmacists because it is the right thing to do," Mr Jhaveri said. "We still have got to to whats right for our community.
"Having more staff available, more trained staff, would be a good thing. The trick really is the cost for that is quite a lot and it is hard to teach on the job at the same time (as taking on extra COVID-related work)."
Ms McCabe said the severe shortages of rapid antigen tests also put enormous pressure on pharmacists.
"Unsurprisingly, morale in the pharmacy sector is at an all-time low, with over two thirds of pharmacists feeling either 'very negative' or 'negative' about their working experience in pharmacy.
The survey showed 93.9 per cent of pharmacists had issues getting a supply of RATs with 75 per cent of pharmacists reporting the lack of RATs had a 'significant' or 'extreme' impact on their workload.
"Everyone wanted them and they were not available," Mr Jhaveri said. "We took so many calls with people saying 'are they in yet?'."
Mr Jhaveri said he felt other pharmacists across the Bendigo region would be facing similar challenges.
We are often in touch with other pharmacies for things like sharing vaccines, which have a short shelf life once delivered," he said. "So we often share with each other and quite a few are having the same sort of problems.
"We do Webster Packs, which is a (four-day) pack of medication for customers who are on (a number) of medications. The packs are all packed at right day and time for them (to take).
"The flow-on effect (from increased workloads) means getting those packs ready on time has people staying after hours to get those packs done."
Professional Pharmacists Australia is taking action to address the problems in pharmacy in several priority areas.
"We're continuing our campaign 'Keep Pharmacy Safe', working with employers to ensure that pharmacists are provided adequate PPE, receive their rest and meal breaks and are consulted about their workloads," Ms McCabe said
"We'll continue our calls for the Federal Government to ensure that rapid antigen tests are distributed in a range of settings, making them free and accessible to all community members who need them. This will reduce some of the pressure on employee pharmacists who are already struggling with excessive workloads.
"To deliver a much-needed pay increase and to attract and maintain quality pharmacists in the sector we're continuing our 'Graduate to a Fairer Wage' campaign to increase the pay of graduate pharmacists by 30 per cent."
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