Guild to doctors: stop hurling abuse

doctor wearing boxing glove

The Pharmacy Guild has rejected claims it’s putting profits ahead of patient safety

“Chemists are putting profits ahead of patient safety as they try to fight new rules that will make Panadeine and Nurofen Plus prescription only, doctors claim,” writes health reporter Sue Dunlevy in an article which appeared in News Corp media today.

“The powerful Pharmacy Guild of Australia has rejected claims by the nation’s peak GP group that it is trying to buy a change in the policy through $340,000 in donations to political parties.”

Ms Dunlevy cites a letter from five stakeholders – the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Consumers Health Forum, Painaustralia, the RACGP and Rural Doctors’ Association of Australia – to State and Territory Health Ministers regarding the upscheduling of codeine.

In the letter, the stakeholders write that:

  • “Codeine is not effective for treatment of chronic (long-term) pain.
  • “There are serious risks of harm associated with codeine use, including death, toxicity and dependence.
  • “There are over-the-counter alternatives available that are a combination of ibuprofen and paracetamol that have been found to be a more effective analgesic than over-the-counter codeine containing analgesics.
  • “Multidisciplinary pain management is the most effective way to treat chronic pain.”

The open letter expresses concern that lobbying by the Pharmacy Guild has “gained traction” with State and Territory Health Ministers.

“The Guild’s proposed alternative model carries a serious risk of increased harms and potentially preventable deaths and cannot be supported by the medical community or consumer advocates.”

Ms Dunlevy writes that the Guild “has accepted $200,000 of taxpayers’ money to develop a consumer education program to manage the change”.

“Despite this, pharmacists who stand to lose up to $120 million in medicine sales have now written to all state governments asking them to make an exception to the prescription rule.”

RACGP national president Dr Bastian Seidel told Ms Dunlevy that the Guild is “trying to introduce policy by chequebook by donating large amounts to state and federal parties to gain open access to decision makers”.

The article is the latest in a series of articles by Ms Dunlevy which have been critical of the pharmacy sector and the Pharmacy Guild.

The Guild responded to the article today with a statement in which it said it “rejects the outrageous and baseless claim that it is putting the commercial interests of pharmacies ahead of patients in relation to the upscheduling of codeine”.

“On the contrary, the Guild’s arguments have been driven solely by the need to maintain convenient access for patients who use these medicines legitimately, and the safeguard of real time monitoring for at-risk patients with addiction issues.

“Rather than continuing to throw mud, Australians want medical groups like the AMA and RACGP to come to the table and take responsibility for the very real patient issues that doctors will need to manage from 1 February when these medicines become prescription only.

“There is no real time monitoring at the doctor level in any mainland State or Territory to prevent doctor shopping, which is in contrast to pharmacies where there is real time monitoring of codeine in every State and Territory.”

The Guild says it is “indisputable” that there will be a significant rise in GP visits from 1 February, by patients seeking prescriptions and advice regarding low-dose codeine.

“How will already overstretched doctors manage this increase in demand, including in regional and rural areas and elsewhere where there are already long wait times to see a GP?

“The Guild respectfully requests that doctor groups stop hurling abuse and playing political games, and focus their efforts on addressing these very real and urgent patient issues.

“As always, the Guild and pharmacists around Australia stand ready to work with their medical colleagues, government and consumer groups in the best interests of patients.”

The debate has moved across the Tasman, with Radio New Zealand reporting that pharmacists are “lobbying” against a proposal to upschedule codeine in New Zealand as well.

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