As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is vital that community pharmacies continue to employ risk reduction and prevention practices, including screening patients who may arrive on site with COVID-19 symptoms and assisting patients who are isolating at home.

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Staying prepared

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change, it is important that all pharmacists stay up to date with local outbreaks, changing regulations and advice for managing infection risks and supporting patients.

  • The NSW Health website - COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is updated daily
  • The NSW Health website - COVID-19 (Coronavirus) resources (posters, signage and fact sheets)
  • The NSW Health Pharmaceutical Services website – What's New
  • Pharmacies should have established points of contact with the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia NSW branches.

COVID-19 regulatory changes for medicines supply

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic several regulatory changes have occurred to enable supply of medicines. Supply of prescription medicines provides a provides a summary of various legal forms of prescriptions and medication orders.

Updates are announced on NSW Pharmaceutical Services What's New.

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia also publishes a helpful summary of COVID-19 regulatory changes for NSW.

Assisting patients who are self-isolating or who need additional support

For practical advice for pharmacists for managing the supply of medicines in the pandemic and assisting people in home isolation and for physical distancing, refer to Advice for pharmacists assisting patients in home isolation.

Advice is provided on:

  • obtaining a prescription
  • home delivery service process
  • supply and handling of dose administration aids (DAAs)
  • sending medicines via mail or courier
  • mental health support.

Limits on dispensing and sales

There are specific limits on the supply of prescription and over-the-counter medicines to ensure equitable access to medicines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Details are published on the TGA website and it is recommended pharmacists regularly review information provided by the TGA. Limits on orders from wholesalers apply to ensure equitable distribution of stock, including to regional and rural pharmacies.

At all times pharmacists should supply medicines only in quantities that are appropriate for the person’s treatment. A poster is provided to assist with communication to customers.

Screening patients for COVID-19

Pharmacies should have posters near the entrance with advice for people with COVID-19 symptoms. These posters should carry the messages in languages common in the local community. The posters should make it clear that people with COVID-19 symptoms may not enter the pharmacy.

Implement a screening process and assess the risks posed by people presenting to the pharmacy. For example, do you have any symptoms of COVID-19? These include: fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath (difficulty breathing), runny nose, loss of taste, loss of smell.

People who answer yes should:

  • Immediately get tested then go straight home and isolate until they receive a negative result. They may not enter the pharmacy.
  • Organise either a contactless delivery of their medicines to their home, or phone ahead for a family member or carer to collect their medicines.

Further guidance on exposure to COVID-19 can be found on Information for people exposed to COVID-19.

Further guidance on implementing a pre-screening process and other example questions are provided in the CEC's COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for Primary, Community and Outpatient Settings.

Practical infection prevention and control steps for patients, staff and managers

For patients

  • Display signs asking people not to enter pharmacies if they have COVID symptoms. Signs and other resources are available from NSW Health.
  • Encourage physical distancing of 1.5 metres where possible, for example through floor markings and barriers to create space at counters, seated areas, etc. Speak to people from at least 1.5 metres to reduce contact with respiratory droplets.
  • Ensure everyone who enters is wearing a face mask
  • Ensure there are alcohol-based hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the pharmacy, including the entrance and at counters where surfaces are touched. Encourage people to use these regularly.
  • Inform people of places where they can wash their hands with soap and water (for a minimum of 20 seconds).

For all staff

  • Be familiar with your pharmacy's COVID-19 Safety Plan.
  • Don't go to work if you have one or more COVID-19 symptoms. Make alternative arrangements with your workplace, self-isolate and get tested as soon as possible. Do not return to work until you receive a negative test result and are feeling well.
  • Staff should be up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Staff with symptoms or classified as household or close contacts of someone who has tested positive follow the NSW Health household and close contacts guidelines.
  • Be ready to respond to enquiries about COVID-19 vaccinations by referring to COVID-19 vaccination in NSW and Get the facts about COVID-19 vaccination .
  • Practice effective hand hygiene; wash your hands thoroughly or use an alcohol-based hand rub throughout the work day and avoid touching your face as much as possible.
  • Keep a distance of 1.5 metres between staff and others where possible.
  • Limit the number of people in the consultation room to the pharmacist, patient, and carer (where necessary).
  • Pharmacists undertaking direct clinical services (e.g. vaccination or examining a skin rash) should wear a mask and follow recommended precautions. Hand hygiene remains the cornerstone of infection prevention. Wearing gloves is not a substitute for hand hygiene.

For managers

  • Community pharmacies should have a COVID-19 Safety Plan.
  • Incorporate recommendations on infection prevention into each step of service models. This includes handwashing facilities, hand sanitiser provision, physical distancing and wearing masks.
  • Prepare staff to refer people to information on how to get a COVID vaccine.
  • Recommend all staff be up to date with their COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Ensure staff with symptoms or classified as close contacts of someone who has tested positive follow the NSW Health household and close contacts guidelines.

Cleaning and waste management

Key recommendations for pharmacies include:

  • increasing the frequency of environmental cleaning, particularly high touch surfaces like benchtops and handles
  • timing scheduled appointments to support physical distancing and appropriate cleaning of surfaces
  • ensuring closed bins are provided for safe disposal of tissues by staff and patients.

Cleaning and waste management should be included in the pharmacy's COVID-19 Safety Plan.

COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control guidance is available for acute and non-acute healthcare settings.

Further information is available on COVID-19 and ARI Infection Prevention and Control. The Australian Department of Health has also issued guidance on cleaning and disinfection for health facilities and in the community.

Emergency temporary closure of a community pharmacy

It is recommended that all pharmacists consider this possibility and develop a contingency plan in the event of a local outbreak of COVID-19. Pharmacists and business managers should consider:

  • complying with regulations with regards to supply and storage of medicines
  • being familiar with your emergency locum options
  • that any closure is communicated to customers, with a sign on the pharmacy premises as a minimum.

Although it is otherwise illegal for anyone to take or supply anything from a pharmacy in the absence of a pharmacist, a non-pharmacist staff member could, on the direction of the pharmacist:

  • take possession of the prescriptions and repeats (other than S8 and S4B) which had been left at the pharmacy for safekeeping/convenience, then:
    • take the prescriptions to a different pharmacy, advising patients to phone that other pharmacy if a medication is required
    • deliver the prescriptions/repeats to the patient's address for the patient to organise the dispensing at another pharmacy
    • offer a courier/delivery service taking the prescription/repeats to another pharmacy (perhaps in the next town) to have the medication dispensed and then delivered to the customer. Note, in the case of S8 and S4B (androgenic anabolic steroid) original and repeat prescriptions, these must remain on the premises of the pharmacy which first dispensed them. If a patient requires a further supply whilst the pharmacy is closed, another pharmacy will require a new prescription.
    • take possession of dispensed (non-S8) medicines then deliver them directly to the patient.

More information

Current as at: Thursday 25 August 2022
Contact page owner: Health Protection NSW