Pharmacists ‘overwhelmed, burnt out and exhausted’ as Omicron surge takes its toll


A new survey has found that surging Omicron cases, the increased demand for rapid antigen tests and the roll out of COVID -19 vaccinations, on top of already excessive workloads and demands have left employee pharmacists stressed and exhausted, with morale at an all time low.

Professional Pharmacists Australia CEO Jill McCabe said that two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, topped off by a lack of adequate planning and preparation by the Federal Government to manage the highly infectious Omicron variant, had taken a terrible toll on Australia’s employee pharmacists.

“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.

“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.”

McCabe said the severe shortages of rapid antigen tests put enormous pressure on pharmacists, with 75 per cent of pharmacists reporting the lack of rapid antigen tests had a ‘significant’ or ‘extreme’ impact on their workload.

One pharmacist survey respondent was quoted as saying:

“There’s not enough staff to handle the 100 phone calls an hour asking for RATs whilst doing 80 vaccinations a day on top of the regular workload of a 400+/day scripts for the pharmacy.”

McCabe also said the vaccination workload for pharmacists had also increased exponentially in a short period of time, as a result of increasing infection rates, the acceleration of the third booster dose for adults and the roll out of vaccinations for young children.

“86 per cent of pharmacists reported the vaccine roll out was having a ‘significant’ or ‘extreme’ impact on their workloads.

McCabe also said a lack of adequate access to important personal protective equipment (PPE) was adding to the stress of pharmacists, with over 25 per cent having to purchase their own PPE.

“We’re also shocked that 91 per cent of employee pharmacists who administer the vaccination did not receive any extra payment for doing so, when pharmacy employers have received Federal Government payments for delivering COVID-19 vaccinations.

McCabe said long-standing workplace issues in pharmacy such as low wages, excessive workloads and poor employment conditions had been amplified during the pandemic.

“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.

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.

“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.

“We will also be pursuing a new classification and wage structure for pharmacists to address low levels of pay and lack of career progression opportunities.

“We will also be calling on pharmacy employers to provide employee pharmacists with healthy and safe workplaces, reasonable workloads and decent pay and conditions.”

While PPA is taking action in several key areas, we also need government and pharmacy organisations such as the Pharmacy Guild and PSA to step up and help address the serious workforce and workplace problems in pharmacy.