Five ways pharmacists could help

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Emergency protocols should allow the dispensing of full size medicine packs following disasters like the recent bushfires, say pharmacists

Five strategic measures could help protect Queenslanders in difficult times such as those during and following disasters, and when it comes to infectious diseases and common ailments, says the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s Queensland branch.

“Over the past few months, our nation has experienced one of the worst bushfire seasons in history,” said PSA Queensland President, Chris Campbell.

“During this emergency, many people have had to urgently evacuate their homes, leaving behind many of their personal possessions, sometimes including life-saving medicines.

“This crisis has demonstrated the shortcomings of current legislation, which only allows pharmacists to supply three-days of medicines in an emergency situation.

“Those impacted not only find it exceptionally challenging to get a prescription, but should not have this additional worry at such a stressful time.”

In its submission the PSA recommends the Queensland Government amend emergency supply provisions to allow pharmacists to supply a standard manufacturer pack size of medicines in an emergency or disaster.

“In most cases, this would give people access to at least 30 days of medicine; a common sense change for a decentralised state such as Queensland,” Mr Campbell said.

The submission states that “PSA’s proposal represents a logical extension of these provisions which will help ensure patients have proper access to their regular essential medicines in a timely manner”.

“In response to the bushfire crisis this summer, the NSW, Victorian, South Australian and the ACT governments successfully implemented the expansion of continued dispensing provisions during the bushfire period.”

The organisation also tackles vaccine preventable diseases, saying that pharmacists could do more.

“Pharmacists are already authorised to provide vaccinations, but there are some limiting restrictions. If these are removed, we believe vaccination rates would increase,” Mr Campbell said.

“Most Australians visit their pharmacist around 14 times a year. This high level of accessibility, combined with the trust consumers have in the profession, will encourage more people to get immunised.”

PSA proposes that the list of vaccines currently able to be administered by pharmacists in Queensland be expanded – from the existing list of flu (including the enhanced over-65s vaccine), the measles, mumps and rubella and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine, to include meningococcal WCWY as well as meningococcal B, hepatitis A and B, human papillomavirus, pneumococcal, poliomyelitis, varicella, zoster, rabies, typhoid and cholera.

PSA is calling on the state Government to allow Queenslanders aged 10 and older to access all vaccinations from a pharmacist vaccinator, to allow them access to NIP and state-funded vaccine stock, and remove barriers on where pharmacists can administer vaccines in line with other immunisation providers in the state.

Common ailments are also a priority, with PSA pointing out that more than 70,000 emergency department presentations in Queensland every year are considered to be non-urgent.

“This means patients have less-serious ailments, such as minor pain management or cold and flu,” Mr Campbell said.

PSA is calling on the Queensland Government to allocate $26 million over four years to fund management of non-urgent or low-urgency medical conditions through community pharmacy and to implement a consumer awareness campaign.

 “Our hospital system is under increasing pressure and with the majority of these non-urgent presentations occurring during the typical business hours of a community pharmacy, we think pharmacists can help ease the burden,” Mr Campbell said.

“Research shows pharmacists have the skills and expertise to support patients for less serious ailments who would currently seek care from a hospital. Pharmacists can provide self-care advice or triage patients and refer them to the appropriate health service if necessary.”

PSA also proposes that the state government employ pharmacists in state-operated residential aged care facilities to improve the Quality Use of Medicines and to reduce the harm caused by overuse of psychotropic medicines, opioids and antibiotics.

In Australia, 250,000 hospital admissions a year are a result of medicine-related problems, costing the health care system $1.4 billion per year. Fifty per cent of this harm is preventable, PSA says.

“Older Australians are particularly vulnerable to medicine-related problems,” Mr Campbell said. “PSA research found 98% of aged care resident have at least one medicine-related problem.

“Pharmacists, as medicine experts, can help ensure medicines are used effectively, improve patient adherence, and reduce the risk of medication errors and harm.”

PSA’s Pre-Budget Submission also calls on the Government to establish the role of Queensland Chief Pharmacist to provide coordinated advice and oversight on medicine-related matters within the state health system.

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