9 August 2017

Conflict looms over role of pharmacists

KnowCents Pharmacy

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has spurned the RACGP’s desire to preserve strict limits on pharmacists’ scope of practice.

In its submission to a government review, the College said it strongly opposed the expansion of the pharmacist role outside of medicines and medications management.

“The RACGP maintains that pharmacists add value when providing services related to the safe, effective and efficient use of medicines,” the College told the government’s Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation Review.

“The increasing push to expand the scope of pharmacy beyond this is inappropriate, puts patients at risk and wastes valuable health resources.”

The College said it could only support an expansion of the role “within the scope of pharmacy, such as a general practice-based non-dispensing pharmacist”.

If efficiency was the objective of government reform, GPs should be allowed to dispense medicines, it said. However, the day after the RACGP’s argument was made public, Minister Hunt asked pharmacists to step up and help carry the growing burden of chronic disease.

Addressing the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s (PSA) annual conference in Sydney, Mr Hunt said pharmacists stood with GPs in the front line of healthcare and should be recognised as “medicines providers, as community leaders and primary carers”.

Mr Hunt said successful pharmacy-based trials to detect and manage diabetes would now be followed by commonwealth-backed programs to combat asthma.

“You are the front line and we will develop the trial, supporting you, which I want to see to be fundamental to the next pharmacy agreement,” he said.

“We will work with the Willcock Institute, the society and the (Pharmacy) Guild to develop a major trial across the country to complement what’s been done with the diabetes trial. We want to translate that to asthma.”

Mr Hunt also pledged to erase a sunset clause on pharmacy-location rules which protect pharmacies from undue competition – chopping down another plank of the RACGP’s position.

He said the location rules were needed to give pharmacies certainty and keep the sector viable.

The Minister also said the “compacts” he signed with the PSA, the RACGP and other peak health groups had created a “strong basis of trust for going ahead”.

PSA President Dr Shane Jackson said he wanted to banish the description of pharmacists as the “most under-utilised” health professionals and flagged a 10-year action plan to deliver expanded roles for pharmacists in professional services.

Any disappointment felt by the doctors’ lobby, however, pales compared with the fury of the Pharmacy Guild, the body representing pharmacy owners, at calls for deregulation in the pharmacy review’s interim report.

“The review is best described as an exercise in looking for solutions to non-existent problems and as a consequence has been a lost opportunity,” the Guild said.

“It should have focused on the potential to utilise this critical, privately financed health infrastructure, and the highly trained health professionals who work in it, to deliver better and more cost-effective health outcomes for all Australians.

“Regrettably, it has instead promoted budget savings as the central goal of its inquiry, taking precedence over social objectives.”