With the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement signed and now operating, now’s the time to consider how to enhance the role of community pharmacies in the wider health system, Guild executive director David Quilty writes in this week’s edition of Forefront.

“The safe dispensing of medicines will continue to be the core business of pharmacies,” he writes.

“The 6CPA ensures that dispensing remuneration is maintained in real terms for the next five years and is already delivering tangible benefits to Australia’s 5,450 community pharmacies.

“However, the 6CPA outcome does not change the fact that pharmacies must secure new revenue streams in order to grow and prosper, and enable their highly trained staff to practice at the top of their profession to the maximum benefit of their patients.”

He says that the near doubling in funding for community pharmacy-based programs in the 6CPA sends a clear message that the Federal Government strongly supports a broadening of the role of pharmacies.

“In both her public statements and in her conversations with the Guild and across the sector, the Minister for Health, Sussan Ley, has outlined a number of her priorities,” Quilty writes.

“She has made clear that pharmacies have a vital role to play in rural Australia and in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities where there is a dearth of readily accessible health services.

“As an active rural politician, Minister Ley knows these issues from her own first-hand experience.

“She has pinpointed how community pharmacies can help address the issue of post-discharge medication management by reconciling patients’ medicines when they leave hospital in collaboration with their local GPs.

“It is also clear that Minister Ley wants to make a real difference in tackling the root lifestyle-related causes of a range of chronic health conditions, with an increased focus on preventative health, risk assessment and early intervention.”

He says that in all these areas, community pharmacies, as highly accessible and trusted health and wellness destinations, are well-placed to help deliver on the Minister’s agenda.

Minister Ley’s support of an enhanced role for pharmacies is backed up by real money in the 6CPA, he writes, with $50 million for the Pharmacy Trial Program and $600 million for new and expanded community pharmacy programs.

“The Minister has made clear this funding will not be handed to pharmacies on a platter,” Quilty cautions.

“All pharmacy programs will be independently assessed for their cost effectiveness. New programs will be trialled first and then independently assessed before they are rolled out more widely.

“Once these hurdles have been overcome, pharmacy will have demonstrated once-and-for-all that it is an integral part of an efficient and cost-effective primary health care system.”

He says he has no doubt that pharmacy is up to the task.

“The fact the majority of State and Territory Governments have agreed to pharmacists providing flu vaccinations has been critical in changing the mindset of decision makers about the broader role of community pharmacies,” he says.

“What is also clear from the vaccination debate is that community pharmacies will be held to exacting standards of patient care by governments and regulators.

“The Guild welcomes this strong focus on standards which will maintain and strengthen the reputation of pharmacies and provide a high level of confidence for patients.”

There is little doubt that patients will demand that professional services in pharmacies are delivered in a private consultation area, he says.

“It will be imperative that pharmacists have the necessary skills, knowledge and training and that pharmacy businesses are appropriately accredited to deliver services to a quality standard.”

“The Joint Guild/PSA Working Group has played a key role in securing the large increase in funding for professional services in the 6CPA,” he says.

“The leadership of the Guild and the PSA have agreed to reconvene this Joint Working Group to develop a range of proposals for the Pharmacy Trial Program.”