‘I want you to know that I get what you do.’

Minister backs pharmacists practising to their full scope, despite GP opposition, but doesn’t commit on MBS access

There is a fundamental role going forward for pharmacists as part of a broader scope of practice, Health Minister Greg Hunt said at the PSA19 conference on Friday.

“We want to be able to see pharmacists practice to their full scope,” he said.

“I believe in that deeply, it makes absolute sense that if we have a group of highly trained medical and health professionals, that we should use the full range of those skills.

“I want you to know that I get what you do, and we’re going to back what you do.

“This really is a moment where pharmacy has the greatest potential to impact on national health outcomes of any time in the last century.”

PSA interim CEO Shane Jackson, Health Minister Greg Hunt and PSA National president Chris Freeman. Photo: AJP

In the face of ongoing GP opposition to pharmacists pursuing extended or full scope of practice, Minister Hunt said he doesn’t see it as a binary issue, with both GPs and pharmacists being underutilised.

“I think we can get much better outcomes for the community by better use of GPs, because I don’t think they’re being fully utilised, and better use of the pharmacists,” he said.

“The siloed approach is an older approach, what we want is a more integrated approach. I don’t see it as binary – it’s not a choice of one or the other.”

Minister Hunt didn’t state specific support for pharmacist access to Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items, saying he is awaiting the recommendations of the MBS Review Taskforce and will “consider them very carefully” before any decision is made.

This review is expected to wind down and make recommendations to government by the end of the year, confirmed Penny Shakespeare, Deputy Secretary of the Health Financing Group, Department of Health.

“If we’re going to be making additional investments in Medicare, we have to ensure that it’s high value care that will produce the best outcomes,” she told conference delegates.

PSA national president Chris Freeman said the organisation is working with the Minister on the issue.

New sources of funding need to be established in addition to the community pharmacy agreement, such as the MBS as well as through Primary Health Networks, “to allow access to pharmacy practice regardless of the setting”, he added.

“We can’t continue to use one pot of funding as a panacea for primary care activity for pharmacists.”

In addition to reaffirming his support for the role of pharmacists, the Minister also announced that the government will be moving to make quality and safe use of medicines a National Health Priority Area, putting it on the agenda for a COAG meeting scheduled for November.

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