Pharmacists have been asked to provide testing for COVID-19 in a trial that has the potential to end in disaster, writes Jessica Marszalek.
Pharmacists have been asked to provide testing for COVID-19 in a trial that has the potential to end in disaster, writes Jessica Marszalek.

Why coronavirus testing in pharmacies is a terrible plan

OPINION

Next time you're dropping in at the chemist for a packet of Panadol, beware.

You may have a suspected COVID-19 case waiting next to you after the Palaszczuk Government announced a trial to test for the virus at local pharmacies over the next few months and invited businesses to take part.

Pharmacies to offer COVID testing in new trial

'Very real prospect' Qld will enforce hard border closure again

'Disturbed, scared': What our kids really think about pandemic

The idea was announced in parliament last week after being promoted by Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young as a way to capture some of the patients currently ducking official testing places and soldiering on with the dreaded lurgy.

Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s Queensland vice president Chris Owen at his pharmacy in Brisbane. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Dan Peled
Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s Queensland vice president Chris Owen at his pharmacy in Brisbane. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Dan Peled

The Pharmacy Guild's state president Professor Trent Twomey, who reckons it'll be a success, says Queenslanders are already presenting at pharmacies with possible symptoms and requesting cold and flu tablets anyway.

"It makes sense to opportunistically test those members of the community with possible symptoms," he says.

Health Minister Steven Miles says patients visit their local pharmacist about 8.8 times a weeks and making testing available there would make it "even easier" for Queenslanders to get tested.

Problem is, he's right.

If the recent Logan cluster caused when three girls snuck back into the state from Victoria taught us anything, it was that while authorities managed to test the more than 10,000 people who turned out a day, it wasn't perfect.

For some, it was very inconvenient.

People waited in two-hour-long lines, some left the lines.

I myself had to get our apprehensive two-year-old daughter tested in a drive-through clinic, while she was strapped to her car seat - something that hadn't been allowed for a child that young up until authorities had no choice because of the massive spike in demand.

An unmitigated disaster would be an understated way to describe how that went, and we ended up with a blood nose, a hysterical toddler and an invalidated test for our troubles. And then we had to do it again.

People line up to get COVID-19 tested at the Parklands Christian College in Logan, south of Brisbane. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)
People line up to get COVID-19 tested at the Parklands Christian College in Logan, south of Brisbane. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Surely plenty of people who have symptoms far more serious than a slight sniffle will be trying their luck at the local chemist if they think it's going to be more convenient?

And do we want people turning up at pharmacists when there is real risk they have the virus during a cluster outbreak?

The Palaszczuk Government has made a number of medical processes available at pharmacists in recent times - flu shots for children and the ability to sell the pill and urinary tract infection medication without a prescription.

It's been all about convenience.

We're told the staff will all be trained up and have the right personal protective equipment.

But do we really want to encourage more COVID patients into shopping centres and down the lipstick aisle at the local chemist?

Word is already out, thanks to the public announcement in parliament and a promotion on the Premier's Facebook page.

The government says it's only doing what's being done in other jurisdictions and South Australia has run a two-week pilot.

Health Minister Steven Miles says testing at pharmacies will improve access. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sarah Marshall
Health Minister Steven Miles says testing at pharmacies will improve access. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Sarah Marshall

But doctors groups aren't keen and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia president associate professor Chris Freeman isn't either.

"We have continually asked members of the community not to enter a pharmacy if they are unwell and displaying COVID-19 symptoms," he says.

"The concern is that this decision will put not only pharmacists at risk but those with chronic health conditions who regularly visit a pharmacy and are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

"The Queensland Government did not consult broadly with pharmacists and pharmacy groups and we do not want people who potentially have COVID-19 wandering into a pharmacy to get tested."

There's certainly a question around whether the Queensland Government is watering down its own messaging by telling people to stay home if they're sick, but to roll down to the local mall to get a COVID test if they might have COVID.

How are you going to make the distinction to people that pharmacist testing is only for people who are just a little bit sick?

And how are you going to make sure they don't go and get a coffee beforehand or pop into a supermarket afterwards?

Queensland Health workers test at a drive-through clinic. Photo: Steve Vit
Queensland Health workers test at a drive-through clinic. Photo: Steve Vit

The Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Chris Perry is even more forthright, saying the idea could be "disastrous" and "pose a real risk".

He says Queensland already has testing locations that are fully equipped with trained staff and adequate PPE.

"It is no accident that COVID testing is done in people's own cars, or that patients are moved quickly with masks on to bare rooms in existing testing facilities."

"Rather than opening up testing in retail environments, we support bolstering existing services," he says.

But maybe it's just easier to outsource it.

Originally published as Why coronavirus testing in pharmacies is a terrible plan


RACQ reveals election wishlist for Central Queensland roads

Premium Content RACQ reveals election wishlist for Central Queensland roads

Find out what CQ road projects RACQ would like to see prioritised by our local...

Law exams considered for Qld mine safety

Premium Content Law exams considered for Qld mine safety

OFFICIALS in the mining industry will need to prove their knowledge about mine...

Miles calls out feds for removing troops from border

Premium Content Miles calls out feds for removing troops from border

Deputy Premier Steven Miles calls out Federal Government on ‘lies’