COVID-19 Testing in Community Pharmacies
On the 13th August, the Queensland Government announced that COVID-19 testing in community pharmacies will be promoted across the state. This was on the back of an announce by SA Health on the 19th July that they will be piloting a testing trial.
Queensland and SA officials said they are basing their schemes on a similar, successful scheme in Alberta, Canada.
What is being proposed here?
The Queensland Minister for Health, Dr Steven Miles said the government wanted to trial COVID-19 testing in pharmacies to increase testing capability in Queensland.
This would involve approaching people in store who were showing COVID-19 symptoms or purchasing cold and flu type products and asking them if they would like to be tested for COVID-19 by the pharmacist.
This is how it is being trialled in South Australia.
The Queensland proposal includes plans to move from ‘opportunistic’ testing to the use of pharmacies as testing centres in regions where there is widespread active community transmission.
What is the scheme in Alberta, Canada?
The scheme has been rolled out across Alberta in recent weeks following trials. Patients must phone the pharmacy to make an appointment and are screened at this point. If a patient screens as being symptomatic, high-risk for previous exposure to COVID-19, or has been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient, they are referred to a government health service phone number to arrange testing at a designated testing centre, not a pharmacy.
What are the concerns with the proposals in QLD and SA?
The schemes being trialled in SA and proposed in QLD are very different to the scheme operating in Alberta, which government officials have cited as the reason to introduce it.
Pharmacy patients are some of the most vulnerable people in our community – people with complex medication needs, people with multiple health issues, and the elderly who rely on medication for chronic illness and conditions.
Pharmacies are primarily retail and health spaces that are not designed to be communicable disease testing centres.
- Trained staff often dedicated to COVID tests,
- Extensive PPE training and equipment as well as storage and disposal,
- Security guards,
- Strict social distancing measures
- Strict infectious control measures
- Hard surfaces,
- Minimal furniture
- Open areas
Community pharmacies have very few if any of these features.
We do not want people who are showing COVID-19 symptoms to present to pharmacies mixing with vulnerable members of the public.
The Alberta scheme screens people via phone before they come into the pharmacy, and if they screen for any symptoms they are directed away from the pharmacy.
The message from health and government officials needs to be clear and consistent - if you are experiencing any respiratory symptoms including cold and flu symptoms you need to get tested at a predesignated testing site and stay home, not attend a pharmacy.
To now say publicly that essentially any pharmacy in Queensland could be a COVID-19 testing centre gives the green light to people to present to pharmacies with symptoms, and in a community outbreak this could be disastrous.
Recent polls of ~1600 pharmacy employees conducted by the AJP and PPA showed that 80% of respondents did not support COVID-19 testing in community pharmacies.
The proposal is deeply unpopular for good reason – it puts the health and safety of pharmacy employees and the community at risk.
If this proposal is implemented, other states could follow.
What can we do about it?
There is a lot we can do!
We need to send a strong united message to the decision makers that this is a bad idea, and we need to keep pharmacy employees and the public safe.
- Sign and share the petition – the more signatures we have the louder our voice!
- Sign up to our campaign and receive information about your OHS&W rights at work and how you can become a Health & Safety Representative
- Join the conversation in our Facebook group and share your ideas, experiences and discuss how we will keep pharmacy employees and the public safe
- Join PPA as a member The more people who join our union, the stronger our voice and the greater likelihood we have of creating change