Hospital doctors will now be able to write Close The Gap scripts – but hospital pharmacies are still left out of the scheme
An announcement by the Commonwealth Department of Health that hospital doctors will be permitted to write Closing the Gap prescriptions for their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients is long overdue, says Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Strategic Programs Director Dr Chris Bourke.
Dr Bourke is Australia’s first Aboriginal dentist.
“AHHA has been advocating for this seemingly straightforward change since 2018,” he said.
“It will be a welcome support for the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, often hundreds of kilometres from home and their usual GP, to be able to get the medicines they need when discharged from hospital.
“The risks of medical conditions relapsing, and need for readmission to hospital, will certainly be reduced by this much needed change.
“Additional reforms enabling any Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme prescriber, as well as registered Aboriginal Health Practitioners, to register eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients in the Closing the Gap medicines scheme will also be very welcome,” Dr Bourke said.
“We know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients leaving hospital have much higher rates of unplanned readmissions and mortality than non-Indigenous patients.
“This reform is therefore a much-needed step to reducing the poorer outcomes in healthcare suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“While we commend the reforms, the continuing omission of hospital pharmacies from the Closing the Gap medicines scheme is puzzling.
“This means that while a hospital doctor can prescribe medicines under the scheme, the patient cannot get the prescription at the hospital, they have to go to a non-hospital pharmacy.
“The immediate dispensing of a complete supply of vital medicines at the point of discharge as patients are leaving hospital would seem to be the most sensible and efficient way to safeguard their recovery,” Dr Bourke said.
Kristin Michaels from the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia expressed concern that leaving out hospital pharmacy could be detrimental to patients.
“Hospital pharmacists play several crucial roles on the care journey, particularly when ensuring Australians receive appropriate provision of medicines and associated counselling upon discharge from hospital,” she said.
“While we welcome changes allowing hospital doctors to write Closing the Gap prescriptions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, the omission of hospital pharmacies from the scheme is not only illogical, but potentially quite harmful.
“Placing pricing barriers in the way of effective health care directly contradicts the ethos of Closing the Gap, and precluding access to the expert medicines management of hospital pharmacists places Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at unnecessarily increased risk of poorer health outcomes.”