Is the public losing trust in pharmacists?

A leading doctor claims that trust in pharmacists is eroding – thanks to their sales of complementary medicines

Pharmacy stakeholders have hit back at comments from Dr Harry Nespolon, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, over the weekend which claimed Australians are losing trust in pharmacists.

“The trust in pharmacists I think is beginning to fall away,” Dr Nespolon told Fairfax Media’s Liam Mannix.

“Just talking to my patients, more and more of them just see them as salesmen. The sounds are just getting louder as the pharmacies look more and more like a supermarket.”

The article criticised pharmacies as “shopfronts for homoeopathy, vitamins and non-evidence-based remedies” and claimed that a number of stakeholders, pharmacists included, considered this to be “trashing” the reputation of the sector.

It quoted a 2017 submission from the RACGP to the Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation (often referred to as the King Review) as well as a Choice “shadow-shop” of pharmacies, which also took place in 2017.

Representatives of the PSA and Pharmacy Guild both told the AJP that Dr Nespolon is wrong about trust in pharmacists.

“Firstly, there’s no evidence that the public is losing trust in pharmacists,” said PSA national president Dr Chris Freeman, who was also quoted in the Fairfax article, where he said that pharmacists have a duty of care in helping patients make informed decisions about the medicines, including CMs, that they take.

“Pharmacists remain one of the most trusted professions whenever any polls are published,” Dr Freeman said.

“What the public clearly is desiring is more from their pharmacist, and this is where we have continually said we need to break down the barriers and impediments that prevent pharmacists from doing more.

“This is where the public and pharmacists are in absolute alignment: consumers want pharmacists to do more, pharmacists want to be able to do more, and we just need government to see that it ticks all the boxes for pharmacists to do more.

“In the view of the Society, it’s pretty clear that the public isn’t losing confidence in pharmacists.

“We believe a perfect example of this is how consumers have embraced pharmacist-led vaccination. They can see that it is safe, it’s accessible and it improves the health of the public. We believe the same will happen with collaborative prescribing.

“When we release the shackles around the pharmacy profession, we show the impact that a pharmacist can have on healthcare.”

Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone expressed disappointment in Dr Nespolon’s comments and urged him to collaborate with the profession, instead of attacking it.

“The repeated attacks by Dr Harry Nespolon on the credibility and standing of community pharmacy are flawed, without basis and out of step with the strong sentiment that the Australian public have long had and continue to have for our profession,” Mr Tassone told the AJP.

“Dr Nespolon has form and is parading his own negative views of our profession as those of the public.  Whenever he is ready to have a level of mutual respect for our profession to collaborate for patient benefit -then a worthwhile discussion can be had. 

“In the meantime, his ongoing unfounded criticism of community pharmacy says a whole lot more about him than anybody or anything else.”

He said that the Pharmacy Guild believes it is essential that consumers have access to objective, informed advice about complementary medicines; and that all health professionals have immediate access to product-specific, evidence-based information about them.

The Guild acknowledges the widespread use of complementary medicines by the Australian population, he said.

“A range of complementary medicines are available through most community pharmacies in Australia, where pharmacists and pharmacy staff play an important role in providing advice to consumers about these products,” Mr Tassone said.

“Pharmacists, as health professionals, have a duty of care to be aware of available clinical evidence that supports the therapeutic and marketing claims made about all products sold in their pharmacies.

“Therefore, pharmacists should consider the efficacy and safety of complementary medicines sold within their pharmacy, using an evidence-based approach and utilising available clinical/traditional-use information.

“The Guild also acknowledges that it is the decision of individual pharmacy proprietors to stock a range of complementary medicines to meet customer needs. In doing so, consumers have access to trained pharmacy staff who are aware of the different levels of evidence for the complementary products available from the pharmacy and who can discuss health needs, advise and assist them in making an informed decision before purchasing the products.

“Likewise, Guild members should be mindful of their professional responsibility and the credibility that is conveyed to consumers by the fact that a pharmacy stocks particular complementary products.”

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