Doctors raise alarm over pharmacy COVID test trial

3 minute read

A trial in Queensland pharmacies offering COVID tests to customers has raised concerns about the safety of testing in a retail environment.

A trial to offer COVID tests in Queensland pharmacies is “reckless” and will undermine the hard work of GPs in reducing community exposure, the Rural Doctors Association says.

The RDAA criticised the announcement made by Queensland’s Health Minister Stephen Miles, in mid-August, that pharmacists would be able to perform COVID tests by the end of September.

The COVID-19 testing pilot in Queensland community pharmacies was developed in response to long queues at testing centres earlier in the year.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia said the pilot would be strictly opt-in, and aimed to test members of the community with possible symptoms when they presented at their pharmacy for medications or healthcare advice.

“The pilot aims to test patients that are already presenting to the pharmacy with symptoms they may perceive as not severe enough to see their GP or visit a dedicated testing clinic,” said a representative from the Guild’s Queensland branch.

But RDAA president Dr John Hall said pharmacies offered customers a retail shopping experience, making them inappropriate venues for testing for a highly infectious disease like COVID-19.

“The idea that testing could be carried out in the middle of a shopping complex is outrageous,” Dr Hall said.

“Federal guidance for COVID testing is that they need to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until a result is received – not swan about the shops, or check out the diet supplements on special in the chemist on their way out.

“On top of that risk, this idea completely fails to recognise the value of general practice care to the community.

“If a patient presents with respiratory symptoms or a fever it does not mean that COVID is the only possible cause – that patient could have a non-COVID, life-threatening illness.

“If they are tested at a pharmacy they’ll probably be sent home with some vitamins, herbal remedies and a cheeky box of cheap tissues, instead of the diagnosis that could save their life.

“This idea of Minister Miles’ is quite simply terrible on all fronts and we hope never to see it come to fruition – in Queensland or anywhere else.”

Queensland Health told The Medical Republic that the primary objective of the program would be to rapidly identify cases of COVID-19 in the community.

“Opportunistic testing of people with mild respiratory symptoms provides an additional layer of surveillance to Queensland Health,” a spokesperson said.

And participating pharmacists and their staff would also have to undergo mandatory training to be eligible to offer the tests in their store, including how to safely take swab collections, manage COVID-19 symptoms, isolation requirements and the safe use of PPE.

But the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia has also expressed concern over the Queensland pilot, which follows the recent introduction of another pharmacy COVID-19 testing program in South Australia.

Unlike the Queensland pilot, the testing rolled out in South Australian pharmacies was set up to capture incidental customers only by not being overtly promoted.

In addition, the program was only limited to a small number of undisclosed pharmacies across the state, with the aim to provide additional community surveillance, rather than primary testing.

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