Breaking point

Following backlash from the GP community, Sonic Healthcare and its subsidiary SmartHealth have withdrawn from Sigma’s in-pharmacy screening program 

Sonic says that while the program was developed in line with the Health Department’s initiative to promote in-pharmacy health screening services, “many GPs expressed concerns about the initiative, and we have decided to withdraw from the program”.

“Sonic Healthcare wishes to reinforce its decades-long support of general practitioners, and we look forward to continuing our collaborative relationship with GP colleagues in the best interests of excellent patient care,” it says.

As a result of the decision by Sonic, Sigma Healthcare will be investigating alternative providers for the pathology services to support the continuation of the program.

“Whilst we understand the commercial pressures applied to Sonic and respect their decision, the suspension is disappointing particularly given how hard both parties worked on this Sonic collaboration,” says a spokesperson for Sigma.

“This pathology program is about empowering and motivating patients to manage their own health, including better engagement with their GP.

“Accessing these pathology testing services through a trained healthcare professional provides patients with a face to face contact able to help them understand their results – something that is not available through similar online services.

“Sigma and Amcal are committed to providing patient centric services and will continue to develop and roll out programs that empower patients and help them to navigate the healthcare system.”

The screening program announced in June received a huge amount of backlash from doctors’ groups including the AMA and the RACGP.

Speaking on behalf of the RACGP, acting president Dr Edwin Kruys said that “While we welcome and encourage other healthcare providers to contribute to patient care, your GP clinic is the most appropriate place to order a pathology test, not a pharmacy.

“Pharmacists do not have the diagnostic skills required to provide this kind of care safely,” he argued.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon referred to pharmacy-based pathology tests as “second rate, wasteful non-care”.

The medical organisation slammed the initiative as “opportunistic, wasteful and bordering on irresponsible”.

Previous The right label
Next Hospital antibiotics rates drop

NOTICE: It can sometimes take awhile for comment submissions to go through, please be patient.


  1. Philip Smith

    I didn’t think GPs were allowed to show preference for which path labs patients could use? So not sure how “legally” they could have put pressure on Sonic (if this is the case).

    This just means Sigma will have to purchase, gain a controlling share, sublease some facilities or start a path lab of their own.

    • Suengoo

      But it is fine for Naturopaths to order Pathology tests no questions asked ……..go figure

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      the alternative implication is also interesting. If any medical group or representative body has pressured Sonic to close the contract, this is misuse of market power and unconscionable conduct as defined by ACCC, and is illegal.

    • Robert

      Also interesting given the co-location and rental agreements in place for many path labs and GP practices.
      It is important for Pharmacy not to give up and continue to work on leveraging its professionalism and skills in the provision of a seamless and integrated healthcare system

  2. It’s interesting that one of the lead news items in today’s AJP is about the positive contribution of
    pharmacists, in this case, regarding antimicrobial stewardship in hospitals and how it is working, with hospital pharmacists at the frontline, in efforts to curb resistance.

    In addition, we all know that many pharmacists in most practice environments already monitor and suggest dose adjustments and/or medication changes when needed for aminoglycoside and other antibiotics, anticoagulants and a variety of other medications when there is, for instance, renal or hepatic compromise, or there are other dose adjustment requirements,. based on the patient’s metabolic and/or disease state.

    Also, in contrast to many other spheres of practice, in institutional practice areas, the pathology and haematology results are readily available.

    However, having been on many medical rounds over the years, and also reviewed many medical histories for medication-related issues, and having carried out literature researches over many years to provide information and discuss medication-related issues with medical practitioners, it is clear to me that the initiation and clinical review of pathology results, goes hand-in-hand with the specific expertise of the medical practitioner in differential diagnosis, to enable the appropriate designation of tests to be carried out, and subsequent actions to be taken on interpretation. of lab results.
    However, certainly, ideally, in every sphere of practice, pharmacists should have access to these results, and utilise them, when needed, to review and, when required, recommend any changes or modifications to therapy based on the results.
    To me, this reinforces the value that can be achieved with initiatives such as pharmacist integration into general practice, which is already underway (See The practice pharmacist: a natural fit in the general practice team-Freeman C,Rigby D,Aloizos AM, Williams I. Aust Prescr 2016;39:211-45 Dec 2016DOI: 10.18773/austprescr.2016.067).

  3. Michael Khoo

    It looks like the unsound clinical practice argument failed to gain traction so “pressure of an unspecified nature” had to be applied to the service provider. When corporate Pharmacy clashes with corporate Medicine it seems ethics and respectful conduct are early casualties.

    It seems such a paradox when I consider the excellent working relationship our pharmacy enjoys with our local medical practitioners.

  4. JimT

    ….vaccines………Doctors administer…..Pharmacists dispense…………Clear out vaccines from GP’s fridges I say……….their cold chain disciplines are a bit ordinary as well…………andthe amount of out of date vaccines that end up in my RUM bin from surgeries is scary and a big waste of the public purse……

Leave a reply