A six-customer limit has been imposed at Life Pharmacy, with patrons asked to sanitise hands at the door. PHOTO/ARTHUR HAWKES

ARTHUR HAWKES
arthur.hawkes@age.co.nz

Pharmacies across Wairarapa are essential services which are allowed to remain open during the Level 4 alert. But new problems are presenting themselves; the panic-buying of medications, the strict customer limits, the lack of staffing should things get particularly hectic.

It’s a worry for an industry that provides Wairarapa, a region with a significantly higher elderly population than the national average, with much-needed services.

Pharmacist Brent Waterson, at Lang’s Pharmacy in Featherston, has been preparing for this eventuality for a while.

“Well, it may mean we have less people in store, have to use further protective gear, and undertake more home deliveries,” he said.

Speaking on the industry’s preparedness, he said, “We’ve had a rough plan in place for a while, but for a lot of people this could actually be quite frightening. It’s going to take longer for us to do what we normally do, so we’ll have to split shifts with workers to cover the demand. What used to take 15 minutes could now take 24 hours.”

As for staff shortages, they’re not going to be letting go of anyone any time soon.

“Ironically we need more staff rather than less,” Waterson said.

At Life Pharmacy in Masterton they’ll be keeping to the normal hours and making daily assessments on the unfolding situation, as they will be in Greytown, Carterton and Featherston.

The general mood, though, is one of uncertainty: how the industry can balance the need for more staffing with the need for less contact; the increase in demand with the decrease in efficiency and speed; the increase in custom with the imposition of strict customer limits.

Wairarapa pharmacies started to impose anti-viral measures last week as their patrons faced a new reality: a health system staving off a crisis.

Hand sanitiser at the door, customer limits, an increase in deliveries, and preparation for off-site flu jabs are just some of the policies implemented at Wairarapa pharmacies.

The flu vaccine is another concern for health infrastructure, with demand rising among the over-65 age bracket.

In Featherston, where staff are already wearing protective gloves, masks and using hand sanitiser, the vaccine is of particular concern for people calling in.

“We’re getting less people in the door, but more over the phone, particularly flu vaccine inquiries and people concerned about their medications,” Waterson said.

At Carterton pharmacy, they are preparing to do flu jabs in a dedicated location, separate from the pharmacy.

“We’re trying to do them offsite, because the pharmacies are obviously a risk,” pharmacist David Holt said.

“We’re aiming to do them at the scout hall in Carterton, so long as we’ve got the staff.”