Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has promised to roll out national real-time prescription monitoring by next year and support a further expansion of pharmacists’ scope of practice.
Mr Hunt also pledged to dump a sunset clause on store location rules which protect pharmacies from undue competition, saying the sector needed certainty to stay viable.
The minister announced the commitments at the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s annual conference in Sydney today.
He said it was utterly unacceptable that 600 Australians a year died from the misuse of prescription drugs such as morphine.
“We will now move immediately to real-time monitoring.”
A system to track dispensing records across state borders would mean a pharmacist asked to fill an Endone script in Albury, for example, could find out immediately if the patient had had the drug dispensed over the border in Wondonga an hour or a day before, he said.
“The fact that we don’t have that in Australia is a legacy and an error which we will address.”
He said the commonwealth would contribute $16 million to the scheme.
RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel welcomed the commitment to real-time prescription monitoring, noting accidental overdoses of pharmaceutical prescription opioids now killed more Australians than heroin overdoses.
“GPs and pharmacists are on the front-line of this crisis and we desperately need a real-time tool to help us identify and support patients experiencing addiction to prescription drugs,” he said.
“Real time monitoring is already in place in Tasmania where I work as a GP. It’s a vital tool for me and every GP and pharmacist in our state.”
Mr Hunt also announced a move to have pharmacists take a proactive role in asthma management, following the success of pharmacy-based trials to detect and manage diabetes.
With more than two million Australians suffering some form of respiratory condition, in many cases it was the incorrect administration of asthma medications that was causing problems, he said.
“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.
“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 revealed a personal insight into the role of pharmacists, saying his grandmother, Phyllis Grant, had stressed to him the community aspect of her work as a pharmacist in country Victoria in the 1930s.
“Much has changed since the 1930s, but the fundamentals are the same. You are still the front-line of services along with GPs.”
Going forward, he spoke of a vision for an expanded role for pharmacists “as medicines providers, as community leaders and primary carers”.
The minister said the “compacts” he signed with the PSA and other peak health groups, including the RACGP, had created a “strong basis of trust for going ahead”.
The threat that the pharmacy location rules could be taken away was affecting the viability of pharmacies, he said.
In his keynote address, PSA President Dr Shane Jackson said he wanted to banish the description of pharmacists as the “most under-utilised” health professionals.
He flagged a 10-year action plan to deliver expanded roles for pharmacists in professional services.