Emergency supply of prescription only medicines by pharmacists during bushfires

ACT Health is advising that steps are now in place to ensure that anyone affected by the bushfires in NSW or other states, particularly those who are temporarily staying in the ACT, can access a standard quantity of prescription only (Schedule 4) medicines from their pharmacist without a prescription.

A temporary order has been issued by the ACT Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerryn Coleman to support people directly or indirectly affected by the bushfire crisis in NSW and Victoria.

The temporary order enables pharmacists to give a standard pack size of an essential medicine without a prescription where there is an immediate need and it is impracticable for them to obtain a prescription from a doctor.

The order applies to all prescription only medicines with the exception of anabolic steroids, ‘Appendix D medicines’ and benzodiazepines. Controlled (schedule 8) medicines are also not permitted under the order.

The order is in place from 9 January 2020 until 31 March 2020 unless revoked earlier.

The Australian Government has also extended its Continued Dispensing arrangements, to ensure that eligible medicines supplied by pharmacists without a prescription may be subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

These PBS arrangements have immediate effect in the ACT. This means patients who obtain a medicine from their pharmacist without a prescription under these arrangements will pay no more than the usual PBS co-payment of $6.60 for concessional patients, and $41 for general patients.

The ACT temporary order is very similar to special authorities issued by NSW Health and in Victoria recently in response to the bushfires.

The decision to put the ACT temporary order in place has been made in response to reported demand from ACT pharmacists, in order to support them provide care for patients either directly or indirectly impacted by bushfires in the surrounding region and ensure patients have continued access to their essential medicines where it is impracticable for them to see a doctor.

ACT Health has been working closely with the ACT branches of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and Pharmacy Guild of Australia during this response to ensure the community has adequate access to essential treatments during this period.

Our Q & A will help to guide you during this distressing period.

I’m a NSW resident, currently staying in the ACT because I don’t know if my home is okay or not and I need some medications, what do I do?

Your first point of call is a local GP in Canberra. Many GPs are experiencing high demand during the bushfire crisis. If you are unable to make an appointment you should visit your nearest pharmacy and explain your situation and the types of medication you require.

The pharmacist will assess your situation and if eligible, may be able to supply you with a standard quantity of your essential medicines without a prescription.

What information do I need?

The pharmacist will need your name, current address and the name of your general practitioner who usually prescribes your medication. If you wish to claim your medicine on the PBS, the pharmacist will also require your Medicare or DVA card or number.

They will also need details of your medicines including name, strength and dose directions where you have these available. If you have a MyHealthRecord, the pharmacist may be able to look up details about your medicines or contact your usual GP practice if open to confirm details.

What if my current address is not permanent? (For eg: hotel address or caravan park)

A temporary address is permissible to give the pharmacist under these circumstances.

Will there be a cost for the medicines?

During this emergency, the Australian Government has enabled PBS subsidy for the supply of a range of medicines under the PBS Continued Dispensing scheme. If the medicine you require is subsidised by the PBS you should be able to receive it at the subsidised price, provided the pharmacist is satisfied you meet the eligibility criteria. This means you will pay no more than the usual PBS co-payment of $6.60 for concessional patients or $41 for general patients.

Some medicines supplied by pharmacists without a prescription are not subsidised by the PBS. In those circumstances your pharmacist will require you to pay for the medicine.

The costs for medicines vary greatly and may vary between pharmacies. You should discuss these costs with your pharmacist. Some people may be able to claim for reimbursement under their private health insurance.

What if I don’t have my Medicare, DVA or Centrelink card?

Your Medicare, DVA or Centrelink card will not be required for emergency supply of medicines by your pharmacist, as the medicines will not be claimable on the PBS.

What are schedule 4 medicines?

Schedule 4 medicines are also known as prescription only medicines, which ordinarily require a prescription from a medical or nurse practitioner prior to dispensing by a pharmacist.

I plan to go home soon, can I use the medications that I left behind?

All medicines need to be stored within the correct temperature range to remain effective.

Some medicines need to be stored between +2°C and +8°C to remain effective. Examples of these medicines are:

  • vaccines
  • insulin
  • thyroxine tablets
  • immune therapies
  • some eye drops
  • some hormone products and 
  • some antibiotic mixtures for children.

Most other medicines need to be stored at room temperature or less than 25°C.

If electricity has been cut to your home for a long time, medications requiring refrigeration can be compromised quite quickly. Medicines may also be compromised if left in very hot conditions.

If this has occurred discard any medication and arrange for replacements.

However, if the medicine is essential to sustain your health, for example the use of insulin, then the advice is to continue using that medication but seek a replacement, as soon as possible.

I’m planning to evacuate what’s your advice on refrigerated medicines?

As part of your household emergency preparedness planning, check with your pharmacist about emergency storage of refrigerated medicines and have ice packs and/or ice bricks on hand.

But remember, do not freeze medicines.

Page last updated on: 17 Jan 2020