Boost for health

Pharmacy bodies welcome millions for healthcare in ACT Budget to invest into COVID-19 response, health system capacity, hospital expansion and pill testing service

The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia (SHPA) has welcomed $500 million in healthcare investment and a focus on expanding healthcare system capacity as part of the 2021-22 ACT Budget released on Wednesday.

Andrew Barr MLA, Chief Minister and Treasurer, said the budget centres on recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as the government “continue[s] to build and staff the health system necessary to keep Canberrans healthy and safe”.

It invests over $90 million to continue the COVID-19 public health response, including tracing, restrictions, health system capacity, compliance and mental health support, and push forward with the vaccine rollout.

The investment will also go into evidence-based harm minimisation responses to illicit drugs through programs for harm reduction approaches to drug use, including a fixed-site pill testing service.

Beyond this, more than $500 million in additional funding will be provided over four years to boost public health services.

A further $870 million will be invested into health infrastructure, including the delivery of the Canberra Hospital Expansion.

SHPA Chief Executive Kristin Michaels said commensurate funding for hospital pharmacy and hospital pharmacists is required to ensure excellent patient services keep up with expanded buildings, beds and infrastructure.

“On behalf of our members and their colleagues, SHPA welcomes the planned expansion of Canberra Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit and Emergency Department to meet the capacity and needs of Canberrans during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ms Michaels.

“Growing hospital services must mean more hospital pharmacists, if we are to ensure medicines use and medicines supply is undertaken safely for acutely unwell Canberrans.

“Today, hospital pharmacists are key to the access to and supply of critical medicines from the National Medical Stockpile, remdesivir and sotrovimab, to treat hospitalised COVID-19 patients.

“In the same vein, SHPA supports [the] commitment to health workforce and clinical training strategies, including building strong partnerships with key academic institutions and training providers, which aligns with our budget submission calling for more workforce funding.

“SHPA provides Foundation Residencies to train the next generation of hospital pharmacists in the ACT and we look forward to stronger partnerships with government to ensure the workforce pipeline is sufficient to limit vacancies, such as those experienced recently, and safeguard the year-round delivery of patient care.”

Ms Michaels says the future-focus on managing COVID-19 is especially important as ACT looks toward contingencies once the current lockdown ends.

“Nearly 50% of all vaccine doses in the ACT have been delivered through territory-run clinics, in which hospital pharmacists and technicians are crucial to operations, one of the highest proportions in Australia.

“Their expertise will remain crucial as essential COVID-19 health initiatives continue, with the ongoing vaccination program complemented by the Health Emergency Control Centre, quarantine and compliance activities, and hospital and testing services.

“We will see this across the country: the unique expertise of the hospital pharmacy profession will play an indispensable role as Australia meets the challenge of living with COVID-19.”

The PSA welcomed the ACT Government’s commitment to harm minimisation by funding a pilot for a fixed-site pill testing service.

“It is great to see that tackling the highly-controversial topic of pill testing remains on the Chief Minister’s agenda. Illicit drug use is an incredibly complex and challenging issue for our community, and contributes significantly to the total burden of disease and injury in Australia,” said PSA ACT Branch President, Renae Beardmore.

“Pill testing and drug checking aims to provide consumers with credible information about the risks of consuming particular substances. The intent of pill testing and drug checking is not to provide the impression the tested substances are safe, as they remain illegal and potentially very harmful.

“PSA supports Australia’s commitment to harm minimisation as outlined in the National Drug Strategy. This includes support for initiatives which reduce demand, reduce harm and reduce supply of illicit drugs.

“Law enforcement by itself does not stop people from dying, and in some cases can exacerbate outcomes from drug consumption – but pill testing, as a supplementary strategy, can. PSA looks forward to providing support to ACT Health in rolling out this initiative,” Ms Beardmore said.

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