Call for community pharmacy to take on GP, ED services

woman pharmacist helping a mother and her daughter

Industry voice for non-prescription medicines calls for implementation of a common ailments scheme in Australia

There should be a common ailments scheme for community pharmacies across Australia, says Consumer Healthcare Products (CHP) Australia in its Supplementary 2020-21 Pre-Budget Submission released this week.

CHP Australia is the peak industry body representing manufacturers and distributors of consumer healthcare products, including non-prescription medicines.

The organisation based its recommendation to the Federal Government on an evaluation of an Australian common ailments scheme conducted by UTS and piloted in the Western Sydney Primary Health Network (WSPHN).

This pilot included participation of 150 GPs from 27 practices, 33 community pharmacies and 894 patients in the WSPHN.

Conditions examined included common colds, coughs, heartburn/reflux, headache (tension and migraine), menstrual pain or primary dysmenorrhea, and acute low back pain.

According to results published in October 2019, the evaluation estimated that 7-21.2% of all GP consultations and 2.9-11.5% of all emergency department (ED) services in Australia could be safely transferred to a community pharmacy.

Researchers determined there was “good evidence that the clinical advice provided by community pharmacists regarding symptoms of minor illness will result in the same health outcomes as if the patient went to see their GP or attended the ED.

“Patients seeking care and delivery of care from ED for conditions such as headaches, coughs, colds, and earaches are obviously an inefficient use of resources,” they said.

“Building upon the accessibility of community pharmacies in primary health care, it could be promoted that instead of going to ED, patients can visit their community pharmacist.”

They found that nationally, over $1.6 billion could be saved by shifting up to 27.5 million combined ED and GP services for common ailments over to the pharmacy space.

“That is an estimated total burden of between $511 million to $1.67 billion a year [across Australia] in unnecessary consultations for self-treatable conditions that could be managed more efficiently through responsible self-care, with sufficient advice and support available from a pharmacist,” said CHP.

“CHP Australia supports due consideration being given to a common ailments scheme for community pharmacies nationwide to adopt and implement, as recommended by the comprehensive UTS evaluation,” reads the supplementary submission.

The organisation also advocated for ‘self-care’ to be embedded in national health policy, and called for medicines literacy to be established as an integral part of medicines safety.

“CHP Australia commends the decision by Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers to enshrine medicines safety as the 10th National Health Priority, acknowledging that while medicines are safe and effective when used appropriately, further action is required to ensure all Australians have the knowledge and skills to use prescription and non-prescription medicines responsibly,” it said.

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  1. Angus Thompson

    If Minor Ailments Schemes can be made to work in the UK, where GP consultations are free for everyone (at the point of use) and over 90% of Rx issued by GPs are dispensed free of charge, surely it’s a no-brainer that they’d be well received here in Australia ?

  2. Bruce ANNABEL

    Geoff Sussman is an absolute special who has done a lot educating and training pharmacists in delivering wound care services in community pharmacy. In my experience some pharmacies actually adopted his training and offer superb acute wound care services and a few have up-skilled to such an extent they can treat some patients chronic problems. This is but one example and can be done in such an accessible setting. However few pharmacists offer minor ailment services such as wound care because many are concerned about lack of financial reward. The majority remain culturally affixed to the dispensing pharmacist role preferring to leave minor ailments to assistants. But those offering pharmacist professional service minor ailment solutions are doing very well and find it professionally rewarding.
    If the financial impediment by funding pharmacist minor ailments service the health budget would save some $$, more pharmacists would take up the opportunity and the initiative would help pharmacists transition out of dispensing toward ‘helping patients’ through valued/worthwhile connection.

  3. JimT

    … the old days when I first got registered (1980) minor ailments was par for the course in what we offered our customers/patients/clients. Where has the offer changed. I recall doing courses with Dr Geof Sussman (Sorry if spelling incorrect) in wound care and developed a niche in my business for doing dressings and doctors were sending patients to me for basic treatment once stabilised. The cost of doing the service then was covered in the price of the products used. In these times of heavy discounting a different model will need to be established even if it goes along the route of pharmacists having item numbers via Medicare for these services. It’s the Medicare budget that is to benefit and it will be “measurable” for the purse string pundants. Just one example but this has changed a long over the years and not for the better I dare say……

    • robert broadbent

      And in the even older days (first registered in 1964) – pharmacy was first port of call for most minor ailments – in the land of ‘extemp’ where most GPs had their own pet formulas many of which converted well into OTC in-house preparations. Those were the days! :-). My master pharmacist started training in the UK – took a few years off to fly Spitfires in the Battle of Britain – finished his training, then came to Australia. Different times.

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