AMA’s response to TWCM promotion ‘hysterical,’ says Guild

The AMA’s national president has slammed a Terry White Chemmart/Bupa promotion as a “sneaky” way to introduce US-style health to Australia – a stance which has disappointed the Pharmacy Guild

On Thursday, Dr Tony Bartone said the Health Benefit Package being promoted by TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacies – in partnership with Bupa, one of Australia’s largest health insurers – is an attack on general practice which devalues quality primary health care in Australia.

“The so-called health package is asking pharmacy customers to pay an annual subscription to receive health checks (BMI, blood pressure, blood glucose, and total cholesterol), flu vaccinations, pharmacist health consultations, and REWARDS points,” the AMA said in a statement on Thursday.

Dr Bartone called this a “crass commercialisation of primary health care” and a “sneaky move to introduce US-style managed care to the Australian health system by stealth”.

“The AMA and other responsible medical groups used the recent election campaign to increase government and community focus on the importance of investing in high quality general practice,” Dr Bartone said.

“Properly funded and resourced primary health care, led by general practitioners who are skilled and experienced in holistic health care, is the future of health care in this country.

“The best and safest place for people to access quality primary health care and advice is the local community general practice from highly trained and experienced GPs,” he said.

“General practice provides confidentiality, privacy, and the value of the doctor-patient relationship throughout all stages of life.

“It is not appropriate to conduct sensitive, sometimes life-saving, health checks in busy retail environments, many of which promote dangerous, unproven alternative medicines and therapies.”

Dr Bartone said that general practice is the foundation of quality primary health care in Australia, and any threats to undermine it or replace it with inferior models of care must be rejected.

“It is outrageous that a large health insurer like Bupa would endeavour to undermine general practice, especially after a thorough Government review of private health insurance to ensure that policyholders received high quality and value for money for their significant investment in insurance,” he said. 

“This partnership will fragment quality primary health care and put further question marks over the value of private health insurance – just as radical new reforms are being implemented.”

The latter comments are a direct repetition of comments Dr Bartone made in March, when the strategic partnership between Bupa and TerryWhite Chemmart was announced.

Dr Bartone said that the AMA plans to ask the Health Minister to investigate the role of Bupa in this partnership.

“There has been no attempt at meaningful consultation by Bupa – a major player in the private health insurance and aged care sectors – with the AMA and the medical profession about this potentially dangerous initiative,” Dr Bartone said.

“Bupa is sailing into uncharted waters with this arrangement. It should be focused on its activities in private health, aged care, and its recent foray into Defence health services, rather than pursue a partnership that seeks to sabotage general practice and put patient care at risk.”

Dr Bartone said that pharmacists and GPs work well at the local community level in long-established partnerships that are built on mutual trust and respect for each other’s specialised scopes of practice.

“The health system and patients benefit most when all health professionals are fully engaged in their professional roles,” Dr Bartone said.

“Pharmacies marketing unnecessary and expensive pathology tests and other ‘health screening’ services to their customers – and charging an annual subscription – is a push to increase profits at the expense of evidence-based, cost-effective health care.

“These activities are not within the scope of practice of a pharmacist.

“Pharmacies in the community play an important role in providing medicines information to the public, and ensuring that all Australians have access to medicines in a timely and safe manner.

“But doctors are the only health professionals trained to fully assess a person, initiate further investigations, make a diagnosis, and understand and recommend the full range of clinically appropriate treatments for a given condition.

“Health checks, screening activities, and diagnostic tests should only be conducted if they are clinically indicated, backed by evidence, and cost effective. Unnecessary ‘health checks’ are costly for patients and can cause needless concern.

“There is no doubt that hiving off certain aspects of health care, such as screening and pathology ordering, only duplicates effort and fragments care.

“The Bupa-TerryWhite partnership is a misguided marketing exercise that is an insult to GPs, a threat to the health of patients, a blight on the health system, and the Government should outlaw it immediately,” Dr Bartone said.

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild expressed disappointment in the comments.

“While we are not privy to all the details of the collaboration between Bupa and TerryWhite Chemmart, there is clear consumer demand for the skills and resources of modern community pharmacies to provide more health services and advice, within the scope of practice of trained pharmacists,” the spokesperson said.

“The hysterical response from the AMA President – while predictable – is disappointing and insulting to the skilled and highly-trained pharmacists in Australia’s most accessible health care infrastructure – community pharmacies.

“If the AMA had its way, no pharmacist in Australia would be administering influenza vaccines – a clearly beneficial public health development which has brought Australia into line with comparable countries.

“Fortunately, most general practitioners know and respect the work of their local pharmacies, and will ignore the shrill calls from the out-of-touch AMA.”

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