As the role of pharmacists evolves, it’s more important than ever that poor pay rates in the profession are addressed, writes Dr Geoff March
Pharmacists are an important part of the health care team. Without access to quality pharmacy services, people in hospitals and in homes suffer: as it is, 1.5 million Australians suffer adverse effects of medicines, and there are 230,000 hospital admissions a year as a result.
Without access to quality pharmacy services, those figures would be a lot higher.
The role of pharmacists is changing. It’s becoming a more patient-focused role, moving towards providing additional services to patients both within the four walls of community pharmacy and outside those walls.
These changes are heralding an important step in the re-professionalisation process that pharmacy needs to go through.
We are seeing steps towards the concept of “One Profession” and “One Care Model” where the services provided by pharmacists are driven by the needs of patients, no matter where a pharmacist practises.
It involves the breaking down of the “Community Pharmacy”/“Hospital Pharmacy” divide.
It involves collaboration across all sectors with both sector pharmacists and other health professionals and pharmacists taking responsibility for optimising medication outcomes.
It involves taking any opportunity to develop pharmacy services where they are needed; for example aged care, mental health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services, crisis care, palliative care and GP clinics, and establishing clinical handover between the tertiary, secondary and primary sectors of the health care system involving pharmacists following the patient across those sectors to minimise harm.
And these changes are likely to come at a fast pace in the next few years.
This means there are some new skills that pharmacists need to learn or refine. And with that added complexity comes new responsibilities.
Which is why now, more than ever, pharmacists should be properly paid for the role that they play.
If you look at the pay rates of pharmacists, you’ll find there are two stories: there’s a group of pharmacists who are reasonably well paid, particularly those in the hospital sector.
But the story in community pharmacy is very, very different. While there’s still some well-paying jobs out there, the growth in new jobs in pharmacy is coming from the discount end of the market: generally low pay, and on-the-award rates.
When compared to other health professionals, community pharmacists are not paid well. Many aren’t paid as well as nurses, and much less well than doctors.
Compared to other professions such as engineers or scientists, a pharmacist’s beginning salary is very low. According to Graduate Careers Australia, a pharmacist’s average starting salary is $39,000 per annum.
This is the worst starting salary of all university graduates.
And throughout their career, a pharmacist’s salary doesn’t keep pace with the sort of growth we’ve observed in other professions.
On average, a plumber earns $85,000 per annum; an electrician earns $84,000.
We can, of course, appeal to the goodwill of pharmacy owners to improve conditions for pharmacists. The decision to pay low rates is being made by people, after all.
But the low rates in the pharmacy award make that an easy decision to make. Right now, we have the opportunity for the first time in a number of years to make change happen, as the Fair Work Commission is overseeing a full review of the Pharmacy Industry Agreement.
We’d like to see a lift in those minimum award rates – a 30% increase across all classifications, as well as recognition for things like study leave and continuing professional development.
We’d also like to see payments for reimbursement of things like registration and professional indemnity insurance, which would bring pharmacists into line with the sort of conditions enjoyed by other health professionals.
Dr Geoff March is the president of Professional Pharmacists Australia.