GP urges caution on pharmacist-issued sick certificates


But the Pharmacy Guild and PSA argue that the service is tightly regulated and exists to help ease pressure on GP services

According to recent research, this week (12-18 December) is when Australians are likely to take the greatest number of seasonal sickies.

The Amcal survey results released on Monday suggest that more than a quarter (26%) of Australians will take up to three sick days during the festive season.

Australian Medical Association Vice President, Dr Tony Bartone, told A Current Affair on Tuesday that employees should be cautious when getting an absence-from-work certificate signed off by a pharmacist.

“We’re all time poor these days and increasingly so during the silly season. But your health is one of your most important requirements I would have thought,” Dr Bartone said.

“That continuity of care, of keeping your records all in one place, that lifelong relationship with your family doctor should not be forgotten when it comes to getting a medical certificate.”

Pharmacy Guild president George Tambassis points out that the service, which has been available since 2010, is meant to help ease the burden on already strained GP services.

“We’re all about expanding our services. This is a perfect opportunity for us to add value to the healthcare system and it’s a perfect way where you don’t have to go and waste time in a GP practice,” Tambassis told ACA.

“Our training, especially around minor ailments and medications, allows us – within our scope of practice – to be able to assess a patient’s minor illness and issue, generally speaking, an absence from work certificate of usually around one day.”

A September review into the MBS cited the provision of absence-from-work certificates and other administrative tasks as areas of concern where doctors believe their time could be better spent.

Tambassis also reminded the media that pharmacists must follow a strict code when deciding whether to issue certificates.

“We take our responsibility under the Fair Work Act very seriously. Pharmacists have been trained to comply to that legislation,” he says.

According to the Fair Work Act, a pharmacist may provide certification to an employee in respect of the area of practice in which the practitioner is registered for personal leave (due to illness or injury) or carer’s leave.

Guidelines for pharmacists issuing certificates for absence from work, which were jointly issued by the Guild and the PSA in October 2010, also look at considerations such as the purpose of the certificate; conflicts of interest; scope of practice; and referral to a medical practitioner.

“The guidelines help pharmacists provide a valuable healthcare service in issuing certificates that are compliant with all relevant workplace laws and minimises the risk of professional negligence,” explains PSA Chief Executive Officer Dr Lance Emerson.

“The issuing of certificates is deemed to be within the scope of practice of a registered pharmacist, provided they act within their competency and professional expertise.

“Pharmacists can only issue certificates in relation to conditions (illnesses or injuries) they are professionally qualified to assess,” says Dr Emerson.

“As the most accessible healthcare professionals in local communities, pharmacists provide this important health service to help ease the workload on other health professionals including GPs.”

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