Pharmacists are an essential part of everyday healthcare in Australia and have the potential to fulfil a variety of roles which may have broad impacts on the Australian healthcare system during a pandemic influenza outbreak. Despite being the third most common health professional in Australia, pharmacists’ skill sets are currently not well utilised or incorporated into pandemic planning. Full utilisation of pharmacists’ skill sets would improve Australia’s health response to a pandemic influenza outbreak, reducing associated burdens to health and the economy.
There are several steps to improving pharmacist utilisation during a pandemic. These include clarification of pharmacist roles, communication and engagement with pharmacists, and ensuring workforce capacity. This Issues Brief will firstly discuss how pharmacists are currently incorporated into Australian pandemic plans and what roles are currently within scope for pharmacists to perform during a pandemic. Pandemic plans from the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand will be used as examples for how current legislation could be adjusted to improve pharmacist practice during pandemic response. Secondly, communication mechanisms between departments of health and frontline pharmacists in current Australian pandemic plans will be reviewed. The importance of early engagement with key stakeholders, pre-defined communication strategies and workforce engagement with pharmacy organisations and pharmacists will be discussed. Finally, health workforce issues such as high levels of staff absence during a pandemic will be highlighted, with potential solutions from international pandemic plans and academic literature examined in an Australian context.
This Issues Brief makes recommendations about how pharmacists in Australia can be better utilised for pandemic influenza preparedness and response. These recommendations are directed at State and Territory health departments but will require engagement and action from stakeholders such as frontline pharmacists, professional pharmacy organisations, Primary Health Networks and Local Hospital Networks. Appropriate engagement and communication among these key stakeholders will assist with pharmacists’ response to the next pandemic in Australia.