News

Moama pharmacists denied access due to ‘farcical’ border anomaly

By Ivy Jensen

THE health of vulnerable and elderly patients is at risk if an anomaly stopping border pharmacists from travelling to their workplaces isn't changed.

Moama-based pharmacist Steve Reid operates pharmacies in Echuca and Shepparton.

However, a NSW border order — which does not classify community pharmacies as critical — means Steven, and colleague Ingrid Lewis who works part-time at Terry White Chemmart in Rochester, are not allowed to travel to their respective shops.

“If my pharmacist in Shepparton falls ill, the doors will close,” Mr Reid said.

“If we can't open, the health damage to our clients will be far greater than that of COVID-19.

“It's absolutely ludicrous.

“We have thousands of clients and most are vulnerable and elderly, and they will suffer. They rely on our daily operations to continue to supply them with medications and health supplies.”

Mr Reid usually works in Shepparton two to three times a week and Mrs Lewis works in Rochester once a week.

“We haven’t been able to go there for weeks,” he said.

“We need a quality pharmacist on site at all times and locums don’t grow on trees.”

Mr Reid has taken his concerns to local MPs as well as Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone.

Mr Tassone said the fact hospital pharmacists, but not community pharmacists, were given exemption from the border order was a "slap in the face" to the tirelessly working teams on both sides of the NSW-Victoria border.

“Pharmacists that are at the front line in patient-facing roles are critical. Full stop. Not just hospital pharmacists, but also absolutely community pharmacists,” he told the Australian Journal of Pharmacy.

“These are communities already stretched and challenged by rural health workforce shortages without a state government telling their teams they’re not considered ‘critical’ enough to be given rights of passage to and from their employ.

“We call upon the NSW government to urgently review this border order and include pharmacists on the front line — not just hospital pharmacists — in the exemption from their border order.”

NSW Member for Murray Helen Dalton said she had requested an urgent meeting with Health Minister Brad Hazzard to discuss the many problems with the health orders.

“I will be seeing him Wednesday afternoon, and raising the issue of pharmacists,” she said.

“This situation is absolutely ridiculous. Common sense would suggest pharmacists are critical medical workers, so it’s insane the NSW Government are excluding them.

“I believe all people working in border areas should be able to keep their jobs, at this stage. While people from Sydney COVID-19 hotspots can travel to work, so should we.”

Victorian Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh said this was another example of the anomalies caused by decision makers who did not really grasp river towns in particular and regional Victoria in general.

“When there is no genuine consultation, no seeking local opinions, decisions will never really reflect the needs of areas such as Echuca-Moama, and when you look at this mess, where NSW-based experts in the healthcare sector cannot provide their services to their many clients, you can see that.

“When pharmacies are listed as one of the very few services to remain open, but we are stopping the pharmacists getting to their places of employment, it shifts from the farcical to the potentially dangerous because if this impasse means a pharmacy shuts down, that cannot be in anyone’s interest.”

A NSW Department of Customer Service spokesperson encouraged customers to read the comprehensive information at nsw.gov.au about how health orders pertain to the NSW border permits.

“Appeals or requests for interpretation will be handled on a case by case basis. A customer should contact Service NSW on 13 77 88 in the first instance,” the spokesperson told the Riv.

“The NSW Government apologises for the frustration and disappointment for people who are not currently eligible to cross the border into NSW. The border permits reflect the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 in Victoria and the need to minimise the risk of transmission into NSW.”

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