The Health Minister says continued dispensing will remain in place for now, while the payment to pharmacies for delivering medicines is likely to become permanent
Speaking to the World Pharmacy Council, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt thanked pharmacists in Australia and around the world – and flagged that changes made to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic are set to stay.
“Pharmacists have been truly heroic,” the Minister said.
“We have had 5000-plus community pharmacies that kept their doors open throughout COVID-19 despite the risk of infection and the abuse that some copped in the early days.
“Pharmacists and pharmacies have been an incredible community support not only in Australia but also around the world.”
He highlighted the range of measures put in place in Australia to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic, including continued dispensing and the Home Medicines Service.
“In Australia, in conjunction with pharmacists and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, we have introduced continued dispensing arrangements… and we will be extending this for the foreseeable future,” he said.
“A Home Medicines Service has been introduced to support people in home isolation which provides a monthly delivery of medicine, free of change.
“This is subsidised by the Federal Government with a payment to pharmacies for each home delivery resulting in over one million deliveries and 80% of our community pharmacies involved… temporary changes that are far more likely to be permanent changes that modernise our delivery systems.”
He Minister said that pharmacies have also played a significant and emerging role in the provision of vaccinations and further work is being done to have pharmacy as part of the distribution and recording network for the COVID vaccine when it becomes available”.
Minister Hunt also announced an exchange program which is set to be administered by the World Pharmacy Council.
“The final initiative is the Australian Health Minister’s Young Pharmacist Global Exchange Scholarship, funded through the 7th Community Pharmacy Agreement, which will provide two annual scholarships: for an Australian young pharmacist to work within a WPC member country for up to one year and also for a young pharmacist from a WPC member country to work in Australia for the same period,” he said.
“We have an amazing pharmacist network in Australia throughout COVID-19 and this is replicated around the world.”
In the same session, WPC Vice President Doug Hoey spoke about the value of the World Pharmacy Council.
“Networking between all of our countries to share best practices during COVID-19… so much ingenuity that goes on, it has been very beneficial,” he said.
“We have been heartened in the States that the COVID vaccines will be administered by pharmacists… if pharmacists aren’t central it won’t be successful.
“Paediatric vaccination rates have gone down significantly… government has now just allowed pharmacists to administer to patients down to age three.” This includes travel vaccines, pneumonia, shingles as well as the flu, he noted.
WPC Director Darragh O’Loughlin from the IPU (Ireland) said it was inspiring to hear a Minister for Health so well briefed on the detail of pharmacy’s role in COVID-19.
“We have seen a 60% increase in the uptake of the flu vaccine since pharmacy has been involved… now can administer to patients 6 months of age and up,” he said.
He also noted measures implemented in Ireland to help manage the impact of COVID-19.
“We changed our prescription regulations to allow pharmacists to extend treatment out to nine months if clinically appropriate, so all of our patients could access medicines without interruption.”
From Portugal, (ANF) WPC Director Paulo Duarte spoke of the arrangements that have given patients access through a local pharmacy to specialty drugs that are normally only available in hospitals.
”COVID-19 showed the possibility of pharmacies working together with hospitals and doctors to make these drugs accessible with safety. This helped to manage more than 15,000 patients and make monthly deliveries to them avoiding long travel; patients from all across the country went to their community pharmacy to get access to their medicines.”
Closing the session, the Secretary of WPC, Trent Twomey, quoted the OECD on the need to bring together economy, health and finance ministers to solve the COVID issues and concluded by thanking the honourable Minister for Health, saying: “The scholarship will allow for the two way exchange of global best practice and raise the bar internationally”.