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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