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Maltese Pharmacist Speaks Out Against New COVID-19 Restrictive Opening Hours: ‘We Need To Serve The Patient’

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A directive issued to all pharmacies which made it mandatory to close at 6 pm during the coronavirus pandemic has not resonated well with pharmacists who feel that they are unable to serve the needs of their clients.

A joint-notice published by Kamra Tal-Ispizjara Ta’ Malta and The Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises yesterday made it mandatory for all community pharmacies to close at 6 pm following an incident where one pharmacist contracted COVID-19.

Pharmacies usually stay open until 7 pm with some choosing to close at a later time and news that they have to close their doors early is proving to be an unpopular decision amongst some.

“We’re dealing with a pandemic and we need access to medicine. We need pharmacies to be open so people can buy medicine,” a pharmacist told Lovin Malta under the condition of anonymity.

A pet shop will stay open until 7 pm and you can buy medicine for your pet but a pharmacy isn’t allowed to open that late to attend to humans.”

“We should be able to open to serve the needs of the patient.”

The intent of the opening hours directive is to help reduce patient footfall in pharmacies so that it is ‘intermittent and not continual.’ However, some pharmacists feel like this is doing more harm than good.

We need to rise to the occasion, especially when doctors and other healthcare workers are still available. When people turn to pharmacists for advice, we are turning our backs on them.”

Pharmacies closing at 6 pm becomes even more problematic for healthcare workers who finish late and won’t find anywhere to get their medicine.

Healthcare workers who finish at 6 pm or 7 pm find everything closed.” 

Yesterday’s joint-notice also recommended that pharmacies close between 1 pm and 4 pm with staff working behind closed doors on POYC (Pharmacy Of Your Choice) or other matters, or rest. It was also recommended that pharmacists not engage with patients for more than 10 minutes.

“It makes no sense to cram 50 patients in two hours, with people having to queue outside. Mental health is a big issue at this time and we are creating more anxiety that way. We need to give patients the attention they deserve and do it without cramming them all in a two-hour window.”

“We’re also going to struggle to find staff. Who’s going to come out for two hours? There are pharmacists risking closing in the afternoon as they cannot find someone to work for just two hours.”

Malta has been gradually implementing more restrictive measures across the board including the shutting down of all non-essential retail or service stores as of this morning.

The Malta Chamber of Pharmacists has since responded with further clarification as to why the directive was introduced.

“The reason behind reducing the opening hours of community pharmacies is one and simply to reduce the footfall of people visiting pharmacies.”

“Community Pharmacists have selflessly been on the frontline, now every day of the week, as this coronavirus crisis unfolds.”

“Community pharmacies are being advised to close at periods throughout the day, to allow surges in demand for their services to be managed safely and to maintain staff well-being and patient safety.”

“This will also help to ‘reset’ and allow staff to take proper safety breaks.  Pharmacies will individually be informing clients when they’re open, but intermittent closure is recommended to allow safe working and full attention to everyone that needs pharmaceutical care, more importantly, the most vulnerable chronic patients.”

“Also one seems to have missed the issue of pharmacy security; which at the moment, with dark deserted streets after 6pm, and with the few people around and about with masks, poses a real threat to the peace of mind of our pharmacists and their staff.”

“Therefore, fully aware of the current needs of our pharmacies, and in complete agreement with our relevant authority, the Medicines Authority, we stand by our Directive in question, and, although some might disagree on inconvenience grounds, we urge the public to support and cooperate with us, for everyone’s benefit,” they said.

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