GP shortages are leaving Aussies frustrated, says Guild in push for more vaccines, common ailments and prescribing, but AMA says pharmacists are trying to play doctor
After having to defend community pharmacy regulation in mainstream media over the past week, the Pharmacy Guild has shifted the conversation by releasing a new policy paper on Wednesday, calling for pharmacists to play a greater role in the healthcare system.
The paper, which comes as negotiations for the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement (7CPA) build momentum, pushes for expanded rights or what the Guild describes as “full scope of practice”, including treating common ailments, prescribing medicines and administering more vaccines.
This is a logical move to fill a gap left by GP waiting times, GP shortages and high-out-of-pocket costs that “are leaving many Australians are their families feeling frustrated”, reads the Guild policy paper.
The Guild wants to see community pharmacists recognised in the 7CPA as “professional, well-trained people that can offer solutions,” national president George Tambassis told the AJP.
“We want to make sure people understand that pharmacists aren’t practising at their full scope right now. You’ve got this underutilised community pharmacy network … it’s one of the solutions that the healthcare system has just forgotten about. Why don’t we make sure we utilise the asset that we’ve got – 5700 pharmacies not practising at their full scope.”
Mr Tambassis added that pharmacists should be able to administer the full range of vaccines, as well as treat common ailments and provide prescriptions for simple issues such as ear infections and UTIs to ease the load of a growing and ageing population on the healthcare system.
“We think that pharmacists are there to help fix some of the issues that we’re seeing in the healthcare system,” explained Guild national councillor Catherine Bronger, at whose Sydney pharmacy the paper was launched.
“We know that the Australian population are really finding it difficult getting to see their GPs and their emergency departments are being blocked up with people with common ailments.
“We have a network that is evenly distributed throughout Australia that is just sitting there waiting to help fix some of the issues that we have,” she told AJP.
The flu vaccine is only “the tip of the iceberg in terms of what pharmacists can do,” she said, adding that pharmacists could perform autonomous prescribing for medicines such as oral contraceptives.
Pharmacist prescribing could help patients get better treatment for common issues, said Mr Tambassis.
He is confident there is no concern that some pharmacies wouldn’t follow protocols and therapeutic guidelines when prescribing antibiotics and other medicines.
Pharmacists are well trained to do more in healthcare, having undergone “half a decade” of training prior to being registered, he emphasised.
However the Australian Medical Association (AMA) posted a scathing response to the policy paper, saying health professionals should stick to their respective scopes of practice.
AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, said that “if the Pharmacy Guild wants pharmacists to be doctors, then pharmacists should spend 10 to 15 years studying for a medical degree.
“GPs study and train for more than a decade to provide quality holistic care for individuals and families through all stages of life,” he said.
“The Guild claims that a pharmacist’s ‘half a decade training prior to being registered’ is sufficient to practise as a doctor, with all the complexity and specialised skills and knowledge that entails. This is simply not true or possible.”
Dr Bartone said he did not believe that community pharmacists on the ground would agree with the Guild’s push for pharmacists to take over the work of doctors.
“GPs know the medical histories of their patients and their families. The enduring long-term and trusted doctor-patient relationship is at the core of safe, high-quality health and medical care in Australia,” he said.
“Undermining or diluting this relationship, as the Pharmacy Guild is proposing, is irresponsible and dangerous.”
Read the Guild’s full policy paper here