‘Community pharmacies in rural and remote Australia are on the brink of extinction.’

PSA holds ‘great fears’ about the sustainability of pharmacy services in rural communities, citing workforce maldistribution and inadequate CPA support

The PSA has shared fears about the ‘dire situation’ for pharmacy services in rural and remote Australia, after the National Rural Health Commissioner requested feedback on policy options to improve access, distribution and quality of rural allied health services.

“Rural pharmacy practice needs to be considered uniquely and should not be bundled into allied health for the sake of convenience,” says the PSA in its submission.

“Rural pharmacists … needs are so unique that the development of a discussion paper on rural pharmacy quality, access and distribution is warranted.”

The PSA says its members, many of whom are community pharmacy owners in rural and remote Australia, report that workforce maldistribution, higher levels of socioeconomic disadvantage and lack of rural medical practitioners put further pressure on an already strained community pharmacy workforce.

“Community pharmacies in rural and remote Australia are on the brink of extinction as we know it,” says the organisation.

Its members “are significantly concerned about inadequate investment in the community pharmacy workforce in rural and remote Australia, and that the Community Pharmacy Agreement (CPA) is not adequately supporting the rural pharmacy workforce, nor maintaining the rural community pharmacy network in a way that supports optimal health service delivery.

“Many rural and remote communities struggle to sustain a viable community pharmacy, despite rural allowances provided through successive CPA,” it says.

“The Pharmacy Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (PhARIA) … was designed to aid the equitable distribution of financial assistance to rural and remote pharmacies, as well as other rural programs under the CPA.

“However the appropriateness of PhARIA in supporting pharmacies fairly and equitably has been challenged previously.”

Meanwhile pharmacists are usually excluded from health workforce-related initiatives, except for recent inclusion on the new Workforce Incentive Program and the CPA-funded rural pharmacy program which the PSA says “is underfunded and not coordinated with respect to the entire rural health workforce”.

“The situation is dire,” it says.

PSA says rural and remote pharmacists could be better supported through: investigation of provisions for pharmacist dispensing at rural outposts; remuneration of rural pharmacists for telehealth services, in the same way as their GP colleagues; bonded rural scholarships; and providing interns with graded financial incentive according to remoteness.

It makes the following recommendations to the Commissioner:

  1. Develop, as a matter of urgency, a discussion paper that address rural pharmacy quality, access and distribution.
  2. Facilitate the appointment of a Commonwealth Chief Pharmacist.
  3. Undertake comprehensive workforce data analysis to identify rural pharmacy workforce distribution, needs and opportunities.
  4. Undertake comprehensive review of rural health workforce support programs and initiatives.
  5. Develop mechanisms to support rural and remote pharmacist preceptors.
  6. Fully utilise infrastructure of community pharmacy in rural and remote Australia.
  7. Invest in trials to implement innovative rural-based models of care.
  8. Further explore options to enable pharmacists to adopt and embrace digital transformation.

See the PSA’s full submission here. Read our article on the Pharmacy Guild’s submission here.

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