A distinguished former public servant has criticised the Pharmacy Guild over its approach to professional services, but it says his comments are ‘out of date and out of touch’
“Pharmacists are the most under-utilised health professionals in the country [and] the Australian Pharmacy Guild is happy to keep it that way,” writes former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet John Menadue AO in his personal blog Pearls and Irritations this month.
His article was triggered by the recent proposal to double the number of medications that could be dispensed from a single prescription for some conditions.
At the time of the proposal, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia said it opposed the changes because of risks to patient adherence as well as to the viability of the community pharmacy network.
“Taxpayers and patients would have benefitted but true to form the Pharmacy Guild lobbied the government and Minister Hunt ran for cover. It happens time and time again with the public interest ignored,” Mr Menadue, who is also the former Head of the Department of Trade and Australian Ambassador to Japan, writes.
“We need pharmacists to do more in their professional capacity … The 5,723 pharmacies on high street are a highly accessible and high profile resource, more so than GPs’ surgeries,” he says.
Mr Menadue accuses the Pharmacy Guild of being “a serious barrier to the advancement of professionalism in pharmacy”, criticising them for what he describes as consistently opposing direct relationships developing between GPs and accredited pharmacists.
“It insists that the relationship must be with the patient’s nominated community pharmacy. This is quite contrary to normal health referral practices.”
He also criticises the Guild for what he describes as the “slowness” of pharmacists taking up professional services.
“Why is it that so much effort goes into political lobbying in Canberra and comparatively little effort into utilising more effectively the enormous professional talents within pharmacy?
“Some pharmacists have expressed to me their dissatisfaction that their professional skills are not fully utilised and extended. It is not surprising that many find dispensing medications and running what sometimes seem like gift shops, to be mind-numbing,” he says.
“I cannot see why pharmacists, for example, shouldn’t almost immediately undertake blood tests, as well as flu injections and managing repeat prescriptions. And be paid accordingly.
“But despite the interest in increased professionalisation of many pharmacists there is not yet sufficient will amongst pharmacists generally to make the change that is necessary? They let the [Pharmacy Guild] lead them by the nose.
“The PGA is still the major barrier to an enhanced professional health role for pharmacists. Do pharmacists really want to be professionals or are they content to be corralled by the PGA as shopkeepers?”
The Pharmacy Guild says that it is not true that they are not pursuing the development of professional services in Australia.
“As you would expect, the Guild thoroughly disagrees with Mr Menadue, and regard his comments as manifestly out of date and out of touch with what is happening in modern community pharmacies across Australia,” a Guild spokesperson told AJP.
“The Guild has been supporting the expansion of professional services and the concept of community pharmacists operating at their full scope of practice, collaboratively with other health professionals including GPs,” says the spokesperson.
The Guild is on the record as calling for “full-scope pharmacist services”.
Its recent CP2025 Framework for Change publication begins by outlining the importance of provide health services in the pharmacy, including medication management, preventative health, screening, point-of-care testing, chronic disease support and vaccinations.
It is also well known for its advocacy for flu immunisation in pharmacies, which has led to a national rollout of the service in the past few years.
According to its framework, the Pharmacy Guild says its vision for community pharmacy over the next several years is to build a service- and care-oriented business model.
Some Australian community pharmacies are already pursuing this model.
For example, a review of this year’s Pharmacy of the Year category winners reveals pharmacies that are providing specialist women’s and parents’ health services, running diabetes and medicinal cannabis clinics, and providing medication education for local health practitioners among other services.
“Mr Menadue needs to get out of his blog more often and look around at what some of our great pharmacies are doing these days, providing a range of health services and adding value to the health system,” says the Guild spokesperson.
See John Menadue’s blog post here.