If we had told you six months ago that toilet paper would be sold out nationwide, you would have laughed at us. But like so many things that have baffled us over the past few weeks, stockpiling TP has been a symptom of a wider shift that has occurred since the outbreak of COVID-19. In the wake of a pandemic, fear has caused misinformation to spread almost as quickly as the virus itself.
When we’re scared, decision-making becomes a challenge. When we see our neighbours buying packets of pasta by the armful, we assume we should do the same. We don’t stop to see who might be missing out along the way. Panic puts the shutters up and makes taking care of ourselves the top priority.
So, among all this chaos and confusion, what elements of life can remain the same? For many women, visiting their GP every few months for a new contraceptive prescription is just a part of their routine. But is heading to the doctor’s office during a global pandemic safe? Will pharmacies still be open to fill our scripts? And if we can’t visit our GP, what choices do we have?
Are people stockpiling The Pill as we saw with toilet paper?
In short, no.
In an effort to ensure all Australians have access to the medications they need, new restrictions have recently come into effect to protect pharmacy stock levels (and prevent the barren shelves we saw in grocery stores over the past few weeks).
Along with purchase limits on over-the-counter medications (such as asthma puffers and paracetamol), contraception has been identified as one of 50 different medicines protected by the government’s new anti-stockpiling restrictions.
Since March 2020, a range of new measures to prevent stockpiling have been introduced nationwide. Along with essential medications for conditions including cancer, chronic pain, and blood pressure, pharmacists are now required to cap dispensing and the sale of certain prescriptions to a one-month supply per customer.
These restrictions come off the back of a sudden increase in demand during the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia, with many pharmacies seeing entire product lines out of stock. Since these new anti-stockpiling measures have been put in place, Australian pharmacies have not anticipated any widespread national shortages in medication supplies.
What if I don’t feel comfortable to visit my GP?
Right now, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room isn’t something most of us would be comfortable doing. So, what are our options if we’re in need of a new Pill prescription?
In an effort to keep frontline health workers and Australians safe, the majority of GPs nationwide are preferencing consultations by phone or video call. This helps to adhere to strict social distancing measures and reduces the chances of spreading infection. Basically, the less close physical contact we have with those outside our own household, the better.
As a result, Telehealth has become a key way for Australians to stay in touch with your GP while staying home due to COVID-19.
The good news is that telehealth is perfect for repeat prescriptions of contraception that don’t require a physical examination. Simply by picking up the phone and booking in for a phone consult with a doctor, you can receive your contraception prescription (without having to pay a visit to your doctor’s office).
And just like your typical face-to-face appointments, these telehealth sessions are now subsidised by Medicare. This means speaking with your GP to access contraception via telehealth is able to be bulk-billed, just as your usual sessions would.
How can I get my scripts filled?
As you might expect, pharmacies have been deemed an essential service. This means they will continue to stay open no matter what COVID-related shutdowns remain in place. For those who need a script filled for their next cycle of contraception, visiting your local pharmacy is still a viable option.
For those heading to pharmacies, it’s important to still adhere to new social distancing measures. That means ensuring you stay 1.5 metres away from other customers and staff, and ensuring there is no more than one person per four square metres in the store.
Along with this, the Federal government has recently introduced new measures ensuring access to medications during COVID-19.
The Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, explained a range of steps taken to safeguard access to essential medicines and prescriptions, including:
● A new "continued dispensing arrangement" which allows you to temporarily access your regular medications directly from pharmacies, even if you cannot get a new prescription from your doctor (valid until 30 June 2020).
● An introduction of home delivery to allow those in isolation to have scripts filled remotely and delivered to their door.
This home delivery service is a temporary program helping to protect vulnerable members of society from exposure to COVID-19. For those that meet certain eligibility conditions, you’ll be able to order via phone or online from your nearest participating pharmacy who will facilitate the delivery. Plus, the delivery cost will be covered for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medications, which includes some types of oral contraception.
But for those who don’t qualify for this program, there are still ways to access the Pill without leaving your couch. Our very own team of Australian doctors at Kin can prescribe and deliver your prescription thanks to our online assessments and virtual consults.
In a time as unprecedented as this, we’re all figuring out how to hold onto a sense of normalcy. But while bars remain closed and gym doors locked, there are still ways to access essential services and our regular medications. By taking advantage of new technologies and reimagining the way we access healthcare, accessing contraception goes on as usual (even while life feels anything but normal).