COVID-19 package relies on e-script success

Pharmacy groups have welcomed the Government’s COVID-19 package, highlighting the problems of misinformation and the need for calm

The Federal Government has announced a $2.4 billion health package to help manage the novel coronavirus crisis, which it says provides “unprecedented” support across primary care, aged care, hospitals, research and the national medical stockpile.

Pharmacy groups welcomed the package, which includes $25 million to be allocated to fund home medicines services. This will enable patients to have their PBS prescriptions filled online or remotely, and have their medicines delivered to their home.

A $100 million new Medicare telehealth service will be rolled out for people in home isolation or quarantine, as a result of coronavirus, to receive health consultations via the phone or video such as FaceTime or Skype. 

PSA National President Associate Professor Chris Freeman said the HMR and medicines delivery measures will support the telehealth Medicare items for GPs.

“However, the effectiveness of this initiative will depend on the successful roll-out of electronic prescription which the Federal Government has committed an additional $5 million of funding to fast track software capability,” he said.

“PSA has been working with the Government to build capability for electronic prescriptions for many years. Fast-tracking of e-prescriptions is appropriate to ensure people in isolation are able to receive their essential and regular medicines to maintain their health.”

The PSA said that it supports the approach in fast tracking electronic prescriptions but more needs to be done to support community pharmacy in the adoption and implementation of this initiative.

“This is particularly significant as we know that people with other health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, are at higher risk of complications of COVID-19.”

A/Prof Freeman welcomed the funding of home delivery services as a pragmatic measure to ensure those people unable to leave their homes were not out of pocket at a time they were more likely to be under increased financial stress

“PSA has been working closely with the Federal Government to highlight issues pharmacists on the frontline are experiencing in supporting their patients, including security of medicine supply, the availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), stockpiling of medicines and the continuation of emergency dispensing provisions,” he said.

“We will continue to work with the Government and the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, to ensure the roll-out of these initiatives is practical, effective and well-communicated to the pharmacist workforce.

“PSA will continue to inform the profession the details of these initiatives as they are worked through with the Department of Health.

“Australians look to their pharmacists for their healthcare advice and as frontline health providers it is important that pharmacists are supported by Government so they can continue to provide care for their patients.”

National President of the Pharmacy Guild George Tambassis said the provision of medicines was vital to all patients, particularly those self-isolating.

“This package of $25 million for home medicine services is a measure which will greatly help those unable to access their medicines in the normal way,” Mr Tambassis said.

“We look forward to seeing the detail of the package and working with the Government in the interests of patient safety and wellbeing.”

Mr Tambassis also welcomed the announcement of $30 million for a communications campaign to provide people with practical advice on how they can help to contain the virus and stay healthy.

“This is important because at present misinformation is one of the major problems,” he said.

“The campaign announced by Mr Morrison aims to help keep the health and aged care industry informed, including providing up-to-date clinical guidance, triaging and caring for patients, development of an app and advice to workers in looking after their own safety.”

The information will be based on the latest medical advice and will be targeted at all Australians, including those in high-risk groups, and will be in up to 20 languages.

“A targeted and well-structured communications campaign needs also to impress on all Australians that there is no need to panic and that everything possible is being done to contain COVID-19.”

The Society of Hospital pharmacists of Australia also welcomed the package, with chief executive Kristin Michaels saying that it is important to raise awareness of risks associated with stockpiling medicines, which has risen in line with uncertainty in the community.

“Medicines are not a typical product, they are very different to tinned tomatoes and toilet paper,” she said.

“As reiterated by our partners at NPS MedicineWise this week, having much more than a month’s supply of medicines comes with extra costs and medicine safety risks.

“Medicines needs may change, dosages may need to be reviewed and altered, and medicines themselves can expire or be easily misused if not closely handled.

“We urge all Australians to manage their medicines as normal, and to follow the Australian Department of Health’s COVID-19 medical advice and official reports webpage to ensure they remain informed.”

SHPA noted that the response includes an already-announced national agreement with states and territories to split additional costs related to responding to the virus, while a $30 million public health campaign will aim to teach Australians more about limiting the spread of COVID-19 through hygiene measures, what to do if symptoms develop and where to seek help.

Ms Michaels said all health professionals should carefully consider patient need and circumstances relative to supply chains and follow the expert, centralised advice of the TGA as the impact of COVID-19 changes daily.

“We welcome the establishment of up to 100 ‘fever clinics’ and a new Medicare item to support the delivery of health advice remotely, which will enable hospital pharmacists and their colleagues to better support our most acutely unwell and vulnerable patients,” she said.

“We encourage practitioners to follow local COVID-19 advice where available, including in the ACT, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia, while general advice is also available in Tasmania and the Northern Territory.”


The package

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the package helped ensure that Australia is “as well prepared as any country in the world”.

“This package is about preventing and treating coronavirus in the coming weeks,” the PM said.

“Our medical experts have been preparing for an event like this for years and this is the next step up in Australia’s plan.”

The package includes $100 million to fund a new bulk-billed Medicare service for people in home isolation or quarantine, as a result coronavirus, to receive health consultations via the phone or video such as FaceTime or Skype.

These consultations will be provided by doctors, both GPs and specialists, nurses and mental health allied health workers and will also be available under Medicare for people aged over 70, people with chronic diseases, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 50, people who are immunocompromised, pregnant people and new parents with babies.

The Government will provide $25 million to fund home medicines services to enable patients to have their PBS prescriptions filled online or remotely, and have the medicines delivered to their home.

This service will be available for people in home isolation and for vulnerable patient groups. 

All pharmacies with e-prescribing will be eligible to participate in the home medicines services and patients will continue to retain choice in their preferred community pharmacy.

To support GPs and pharmacies, the Government is set to fast-track the rollout of electronic prescribing across Australia with funding of $5 million.

Patients will have access to services via the GP, telehealth, the national hotline, state hotlines, dedicated respiratory clinics and hospitals.

The national triage phone line will be expanded with an additional $50.7 million in funding, operating 24/7 to provide advice to patients.

The free-call hotline is expected to advise people on the best course of action depending on their symptoms and risks and advise whether they should go to the nearest hospital or respiratory clinic, or to stay home and self-monitor, or contact their GP.

People who are not severely ill with COVID-19 will be directed to GPs or a network of GP-led respiratory clinics.

The Government also plans to invest $206.7 million for up to 100 dedicated respiratory clinics. The Primary Health Networks will co-ordinate with the AMA, RACGP and states and territories to identify areas of need. The clinics are designed to be a one-stop-shop for people who are concerned they may have the virus, to be tested and isolated from other patients. 

People living and working in remote locations, in particular in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, will be given tools to proactively screen visitors and fly-in, fly-out workers, additional support to evacuate early cases if required, and mobile respiratory clinics to quickly respond to outbreaks where there is no hospital or available health service. $58.7 million will be provided to support these functions.

The Government will also establish dedicated Medicare funded and bulk billed pathology test for COVID-19. This is expected to cost $170.2 million and patients will also receive both the COVID-19 and flu test. Funding will also be provided for pathology testing to be conducted in aged care facilities.

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