Hospital pharmacists’ crisis looming

There was a hidden cut in the federal budget that will likely put additional pressure on pharmacist staffing levels in the nation’s public hospitals. As with other disciplines, pharmacists have taken on more duties and responsibilities without the commensurate increase in staff to deal with workload increases. We know from our own research that planned leave and vacant roles are not being backfilled as required under our agreement, further contributing to the escalating workloads for hospital pharmacists.

Hospital pharmacists have seen steadily growing workloads and an increasing list of responsibilities including, in some cases, pharmacists doing more work away from the dispensary and spending more time in wards. This has been good to improve the relationships between patients, treating doctors and specialists and pharmacists; and it helps greatly in determining the sort of medications and care needed once someone leaves the hospital.

But what we’re learning is that pharmacists are now so overworked pharmacists are struggling to ensure the level of care that was once offered.

Pharmacists are increasingly expressing concerns about their mental and general health and well-being resulting from work. Stress and anxiety levels are rising along with the workloads. But instead of addressing a growing shortage in the pharmacist workload, the Federal Government decided to make things even harder but further cutting funding for pharmacists – and in particular the funding used to expand the pharmacist workforce. As a result we may see hospitals attempt to ignore the shortage and simply expect pharmacists to pick up more work.

It’s not surprising then to read about delays to patients being discharged while waiting for delayed medications. Governments and hospital management must accept the basic responsibility of staffing pharmacy services with the appropriate numbers necessary to perform the growing volume of tasks and responsibilities needing to be performed in modern hospital pharmacies. It’s not rocket science. The growing reality is that pharmacist understaffing is increasing patient safety risks and a source of delayed patient discharge.

The good news that I can report is final in-principle agreement between the AHP, DHHS and the VHIA (on behalf of all public health services) has been reached on the pharmacist leave-relief bank. We are waiting for a number of pharmacy departments to finalise submissions before the final details are announced. The Union will advise as soon as we have the details.

Help ensure we can keep fighting the attacks on our professions and rights at work, by encouraging your colleagues to join the union – don’t forget the membership of the Union includes Pharmacy Board-approved professional indemnity insurance. Rest assured the Union will not stop advocating for pharmacists and the need to grow the workforce to reduce workloads and workplace stress and anxiety.

Paul Elliott

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