Tuesday, August 11, 2020
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Pharmacies yesterday urged the government to permit five days per week opening and to better define what “curbside service” means for the industry during the present COVID-19 lockdown.
Shantia McBride, president of the Bahamas Pharmaceutical Association (BPA), told Tribune Business yesterday that discussions with the competent authority over an opening hours extension are “ever changing”.
She explained that the Tuesday and Thursday lockdowns, during which pharmacies must also close, was causing pain and inconvenience for patients who were forced to wait 24 hours longer to obtain critical medicines.
“As we look at the exposure rates and exposure sites throughout, we are in discussions with them to ensure that the public has access to pharmacy care. That was our main concern,” Ms McBride said.
“We have had a few patients call us personally to inform us that throughout the night they have been having medical issues, and the alternate-day lockdown is really causing medical issues for them in terms of getting pharmaceutical care. Not everything is COVID-related so we have persons with other ailments that need treatment.”
The industry’s opening hours to the general public, based on a normal six-day week of 12 hours per day, have effectively been cut in half through being permitted to open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 10 hours per day (7am to 5pm), plus six hours on Saturday (7am to 1pm) to serve “essential workers”.
Ms McBride explained: “For pharmacies to also be on alternate days, that gives some persons 30 hours in-between getting assistance. You know we have asthmatics. We had a lady where her son got stung by a centipede and she couldn’t get help.
“Most of us operate on a 12-hour work schedule from Monday to Saturday. However, while limiting us to 36 hours, the volume of our prescriptions or patient care does not decrease. We still have to service that same volume of patients that we would have had prior to the lockdown, so as it pertains to refill prescriptions, we have the same patient volumes. The walk-ins would be something different.
“So to fill the same volumes with limited hours, and we also only have curbside. The issue with curbside is that you add an element to the staffing of them going in and out of the store all the time and being outside in the heat. This is an additional strain that is put on the staffing, and due to the COVID-19 social distancing we are still on limited staffing. We can’t add more staff inside to accommodate what we need to accommodate.”
Ms McBride said the Association and its members are seeking “additional hours. Just as the food stores saw a need for persons needing additional hours to shop, we also see the need for persons needing accessibility to pharmaceutical care, and not just alternate days or within the confines of 9am-to-5pm.
“There are so many persons that reach here at 5pm who say they have been to work all day also,” she added. “I had a mother that said she was home but was with a non-driving caretaker, so the person still couldn’t assist.
“So she got to the pharmacy as quick as she could but it was still after 5pm. Even with that extra day for essential workers we are still seeing that persons are not able to access the pharmacy.”
Ms McBride also questioned whether pharmacies were permitted to offer delivery services since this had never been mentioned by the Prime Minister. She added that the Association was also inquiring whether they could serve walk-in patients via curbside, as opposed to patients pulling up in their cars, and said it was requesting that pharmacy clients only be allowed in-store.
“The BPA also wants a clear definition of what is curbside,” Ms McBride said. “It is understood that curbside is when people pull up and we go outside to them, but then with pharmacies you have walk-in patients and you have persons that aren’t driving. Do they now just stand outside on the line, as we have been doing previously? Is that still considered curbside?
“For a lot of us we are within communities where persons just walk in to us, so what is their understanding of curbside? With the curbside it also asks for a take-out window, which is an option and some pharmacies said that they can create a take-out window at their locations.”
Ms McBride said the Association has met with Renward Wells, minister for health, and officials from the Prime Minister’s Office on its “multi-fold” requests and is now awaiting their response.