CWH slammed over $20 sick notes

Chemist Warehouse
Image by Francisco Anzola

Some employers are unenthusiastic about accepting absence from work certificates issued by pharmacists, mainstream media claim

News Corp media have reported that Innex Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, says that “some bosses would be sceptical of notes obtained from a chain store pharmacy”.

“Pharmacists are not doctors and the Fair Work Act makes no reference to them being appropriately qualified to issue medical certificates for the purposes of personal/carer’s leave entitlements,” Mr Willox said.

“Many employers are likely to take the view that they are not satisfied with certificates obtained from pharmacists.” and the Daily Mail both singled out Chemist Warehouse stores offering the service for $20.

“How you can BUY your next sick day without going to the doctor: Chemists now offer $20 medical certificates – and they’re being handed out ‘like headache tablets’,” trumpeted a Daily Mail headline.

The Daily Mail quoted AMA vice president Dr Tony Bartone, who said that people should see their GP, rather than a pharmacist, to obtain an absence from work certificate.

“The combination of symptoms which prevented a patient from attending work might seem innocuous, but it could be the beginning of something more severe,” Dr Bartone said.

“It makes more sense to see your family GP. It’s about a continuity of care, an ongoing clinical relationship, which goes to informing and providing future care.” cited the case of a foreign national who obtained a sick note from a pharmacy to support his claim to be sick the day of a Migration Review Tribunal hearing. The case was reported in the AJP.

The review body found the certificate to be “plainly inadequate”.

Mr Willox also criticised online absence certificate services such as Dr Sicknote, now known as Qoctor, telling News Corp that they were a concern.

“For obvious reasons, in most cases a doctor will be unable to conclude that a person is genuinely sick without having any physical contact with the person,” he said.

“Employees would be wise to not use such services.”

The Pharmacy Guild has pointed out that absence from work certificates issues via pharmacy save Australian workers time and money, and, as mentioned in the media reports, are recognised by the Fair Work Act 2009.

Community pharmacists take their responsibilities under the Act seriously, and should at all times comply with guidelines jointly developed by the Guild and PSA, it says.

The Guild says that under the guidelines, the issuing of an absence from work certificate must be within the scope of practice of the pharmacist, acting within their competency and professional expertise. Pharmacists need to carefully consider whether or not the illness or injury that is the subject of the certificate is within their recognised area of practice.

Under the Fair Work Act, a pharmacist’s certificate has to be able to “satisfy a reasonable person” of the relevant condition necessitating an absence from work.

The Guild says it is “disappointing” to see comments from the Australian Industry Group expressing scepticism about the validity of absence from work certificates issued by pharmacists, particularly given that such certificates have been recognised under Federal law for almost a decade.

“Pharmacists take their responsibilities under the Fair Work Act seriously, and the Guild certainly urges our members to be sure that any certificates that are issued are done so within the strict requirements of the guidelines,” says National President George Tambassis.

“Pharmacists are the most accessible health professionals in Australia – with most Australians living within a couple of kilometres of a local pharmacy. 

“The recognition of pharmacists as eligible signatories of such certificates saves many Australian workers time and money through the convenient location of pharmacies and the accessibility of pharmacists – usually available at short notice and without an appointment.

“Given the waiting time that might be required for a doctor’s appointment, the fact that workers who are legitimately ill or injured can obtain an absence from work certificate more conveniently at a pharmacy is actually a plus for productivity, not a minus,” Mr Tambassis says. 

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  1. Andrew

    Willox would much rather the taxpayer paid for the sick notes his members force staff to provide. That’s rent seeking.

  2. Kelly Lin

    By the time you get to see a doctor, the sickness is over. Wake up to yourself Wilcox.

  3. fiquet

    Looks like our profession needs a PR campaign to explain what we are trained and qualified to do beyond labelling boxes. The public has no trust in us as health professionals and does not classify us as such. Pharmacies promoting themselves based on ‘weekly specials’ of tissues& panadol in local catalogue drops does not help the image.

  4. William

    AIG may be suspicious of such certificates but it is unfair the blame specifically CW rather than pharmacy, physio and others who can write such things. The doctors are trying to protect their domain so would eagerly support such comments to protect their income. At least the $20 patient paid certificate save the taxpayer a consultation fee.
    How many medicos refuse writing certificates?

  5. Fred

    I am a community pharmacist in a smaller town and work in close collaboration with our local doctors. The local doctors work really hard to try and see as many patients as they (safely!) can in a day and are happy about the fact that I can issue absence certificates within my professional capacity and scope. I will certainly refer to a medical practitioner if further assessment is needed. This article illustrates to me that perhaps the medical profession has not been properly informed about our scope of practice in this regard? I think the PSA and the Pharmacy Guild, as the two largest pharmacy peak bodies, and the AMA need start working together to reflect what is actually happening on the ground at the grassroot level?

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