A 2022 medicine shortage supply is just one of a number of challenges Australian pharmacists currently face.
Since the middle of 2022, reports emerged of dire medicine shortages, which in turn created a range of challenges for both Australian GPs and Australian Pharmacists when it comes to supply and patient management.
Pointing out that the TGA had 44 medicines at a “critically low” level, the RACGP urged the government to address the issue. Nick Panayaris, then acting president of the Pharmacy Guild, echoed the concerns of the RACGP, seeing the medicine shortage as a “sovereign risk” that partially came about due to the drop off in pharmaceutical manufacturing in Australia.
Speaking to Guardian Australia, Panayaris said, “…unfortunately…especially the generic medicine industry…is based in India and China…so the government needs to seriously look at this, because they’re not just any commodity, they are essential medicines, which basically keep people alive.”
The pharmacy challenge from medicine shortages
For practising pharmacists, the challenge thrown up from the medicine shortage precedes the July revelations.
An April-May joint survey run by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA), the Pharmacy Guild and the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia found that medicine shortages were impacting negatively on both patients and pharmacists.
From the patient’s perspective, the issue is obvious. From those who casually require medicine for one-off issues to those with chronic medical conditions requiring regular medication, not being able to get easy access to medicines impacts many in the community.
Critical medicines such as semaglutide injections used to help manage blood sugar levels (most notably in people with type 2 diabetes), antibiotics for which there are no alternatives, and commonly prescribed over-the-counter medicines such as cold and flu products and decongestants, were all in short or had erratic supply.
For pharmacists, the survey revealed that on average they were spending up to five hours a week solving medicine supply issues, with 4.5 hours of non-pharmacists also devoted to this task.
This additional time spent on trying to negotiate the medicine shortage issue creates additional stress around staffing and also potentially impacts the level of customer service and care that can be provided.
The survey had a follow up report that made three key recommendations:
Despite the obvious pressures the pandemic had put on the wider healthcare community and specifically pharmacists, the positive outcome of this was the way Australian pharmacists had risen to this immense challenge to provide stellar levels of additional care and support for Australians.
One specific challenge noted by some pharmacists in recent times came from the growing mental health emergency as patients revealed to pharmacists potential mental health issues.
While the bulk of managing mental health issues is handled by GPs and referrals to mental health practitioners, pharmacists have been playing their role as another link in the chain, particularly given they may see patients on a more regular basis than GPs.
More broadly, pharmacists are stepping up to the challenges of providing additional patient support at end-of-life, while also helping to improve medicine safety (which was the theme for this year’s World Patient Safety Day).
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