The AMA’s president has slammed a recent article by NSW Guild president David Heffernan as “a cynical attempt to bolster the retail presence of Guild members, regardless of the impact on healthcare”
Mr Heffernan wrote in his bulletin recently that out-of-pocket costs for many patients is a growing issue – and queried whether they need to see a doctor, taking a swing at what he called “five-minute medicine”.
He said that pharmacists should be able to practise fully in the minor ailment space in order to reduce pressure on GPs and emergency departments.
The article, after being picked up by a doctor publication, attracted significant backlash from doctors including RACGP president Dr Harry Nespolon, who published a piece provocatively titled “Do they teach perfume dispensing in pharmacy school?”
Now AMA president Dr Tony Bartone has waded into the debate, writing in another doctor publication, Medical Observer, that Mr Heffernan’s article contained “patently incorrect claims about general practice, a confused perspective on Medicare funding, and a one-dimensional understanding of healthcare in general”.
“I was not surprised to see that the source for the article was a senior member of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia,” Dr Bartone writes in a piece titled “Why more pharmacy visits aren’t good for patients or the health system”.
“Despite the outstanding contribution general practice continues to make to Australian health, this poorly informed article attacked GPs in what can only be described as a cynical attempt to bolster the retail presence of guild members, regardless of the impact on healthcare.”
He writes that general practice has been “underfunded for a decade or more” and that GPs are calling for more support to provide services such as a care co-ordination program for people with chronic diseases, through a quarterly payment to GPs.
Recent reports that 7% of Australians have delayed buying medicines, or not bought them at all, show that “pharmacy has problems of its own that it must address”.
“And let’s not forget the booming complementary medicines industry which is now worth $4.9 billion; much of this now sold over the counter in pharmacies.
“If Australians have to spend money on their health, the AMA wants them to spend it on medicines and therapies that are supported by evidence, and that work.
“General practice does not upsell its patients. It identifies an illness, it manages it with the patient, and it leverages relationships with patients to discuss difficult topics during routine encounters.
“Simplistic proposals that encourage patients to visit pharmacists instead are a poor option for patients. It fragments care and an opportunity for early intervention is lost, which ultimately costs the health system more.”
Dr Bartone also says that doctors and pharmacists on the ground have good working relationships, and that collaboration is key in patient care.