The Coalition and the Greens have both committed to declaring medicines safety a National Health Priority Area, while Labor says pharmacists’ role in medicines supply is reflected in its national platform
The PSA asked the three major parties to respond to its five election action items, ahead of the May 18 election.
It has sought five commitments from an incoming or re-elected Government:
- Address the alarming rate of medicine-related harm in our health system by declaring medicine safety a National Health Priority Area (NHPA)
- Provide funding to embed pharmacists within healthcare teams, particularly in residential aged care facilities
- Accept the MBS Review Taskforce’s recommendations to allow pharmacists to access allied health items to provide medication management services to patients with complex care requirements
- Align the incentives for pharmacists to support rural and remote communities with those of other rural and remote health practitioners
- Include PSA as a signatory to the Community Pharmacy Agreement.
The Coalition committed to help pharmacists practise to their full scope.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said that the Morrison Government’s Long-Term National Health Plan “is providing Australians with access to quality medical care, record hospital funding, affordable life-saving medicines and breakthrough research for new drugs and treatments”.
The Coalition’s letter stressed the importance of a strong economy in order to ensure essential health services including Medicare and the PBS.
It says that “the Morrison Government agrees with the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia vision for the pharmacy profession outlined in the Pharmacists in 2023 report. This is in recognition that it will improve outcomes for patients, the profession and for Australia’s health system.
“A re-elected Morrison Government will continue to support the pharmacy profession in meeting community health needs by ensuring that pharmacists are utilised to their full scope of practice.”
The Coalition responded directly to the PSA’s request for a response to its five commitment areas:
Point one: the Coalition says the Government is concerned by the PSA’s recent report into the extent of medicine-related harms in Australia, and is investing “significantly” in programs to support 6CPA programs supporting quality use of medicine, including the Pharmacy Trial Program.
“The Morrison Government will provide ongoing support for patients through the continuation and expansion of community pharmacy programs in the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement.
“This agreement will also seek to strengthen the frameworks to enable pharmacists to be utilised to their full scope of practice.”
But as well as existing programs such as the establishment of a national real-time monitoring program, more can be done to improve medicines use and address abuse of prescription medicines, the Coalition said.
“This is why the Morrison Government will declare quality use of medicines and medicines safety a National Health Priority Area. We will work through the Council of Australian Governments Health Council, with the Australian Commission of Safety and Quality in Healthcare the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and key stakeholders to support the initiation of this priority.
“This work will include the consideration of improvement of current frameworks, new best practice models and new national standards.
“The Morrison Government will also undertake a multi stakeholder review of Australia’s National Medicines Policy which will include, as part of its broad scope, quality use of medicines and medicines safety.”
Point two: The Coalition cited the current Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which includes medicines use in its scope, and the establishment of a new unit of clinical pharmacists within the Commission. It says it will work “directly” with residential aged care facilities to educate them about best use of medicines.
It also cited the $7.7 million trial of embedded pharmacists announced in this year’s Budget.
Point three: “The Morrison Government will continue to support the pharmacy profession in meeting community health needs by ensuring that pharmacists are utilised to their full scope of practice,” said the Coalition.
“The Morrison Government will continue to work through the MBS Reviews process to modernise Medicare and will consider recommendations once they are finalised by the Taskforce.”
Point four: Citing existing programs such as 6CPA rural support programs and the Stronger Rural Health Strategy, the Coalition said that the Morrison Government recognises the need to attract not just doctors to rural areas, “but also allied health professionals, nurses, and Aboriginal health workers and health practitioners to better manage patients with complex and chronic conditions”.
It said that the Stronger Rural Health Strategy’s Workforce Incentive Program will provide targeted financial incentives.
“The outcomes from the Pharmacy Trial Program, and other proposals to improve access to medicines, medication management and targeted support from pharmacists in rural and remote communities will be considered in the context of the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement and the establishment of quality use of medicines and medicines safety a National Health Priority Area,” it said.
Point five was not addressed in the letter, but Health Minister Greg Hunt announced earlier in the year that PSA would be a co-signatory to the 7CPA.
In a shorter letter, the Australian Labor Campaign said that the Party values the role pharmacists play in health and medicines supply.
This is recognised in Labor’s National Platform, which now recognises that “the National Medicines Policy and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme are underpinned by the community pharmacy network and pharmacists, who are medicines experts”.
It said it was proud to have a registered pharmacist serving in Parliament in Emma McBride, the member for Dobell, and that it would continue to draw on her expertise and experience when considering issues affecting pharmacy.
“If elected, Labor would be happy to engage with the PSA on the issue of embedding pharmacists within healthcare teams, particularly in residential aged care facilities, in more detail,” it says.
“We have already announced that a Shorten Labor Government will establish a permanent Australian Health Reform Commission, and that one of its first priorities will be primary care reform. We look forward to working with you on this important task.”
Labor says only it will be in a position to improve aged care and respond adequately to the current Royal Commission.
It cited existing commitments such as the acceleration of the Matter of Care workforce strategy and the publication of the skill mix at every residential aged care facility to ensure an appropriate skill mix is present in staff at all times.
“The next Community Pharmacy Agreement will need to consider the role of pharmacists and community pharmacies in primary health care reform,” it says.
“Labor agrees that pharmacists should work to their full scope of practice, without fragmenting care or duplicating services.”
It said that it would honour existing 6CPA commitments and lead “early and inclusive” 7CPA negotiations, “giving PSA a seat at the table”.
Greens leader Richard di Natale wrote that the Greens see pharmacy as an opportunity in health.
“The Greens have long championed the greater harnessing of skills and experience of pharmacists beyond dispensing, for example in assisting the one in five Australians over 65 who are now living with multiple chronic disease,” he wrote.
“The Greens believe that spending on health is an investment and that as a wealthy country, we are lucky to have the resources required to ensure that Australians have access to the essential treatments and procedures they need to live a healthy life.
“Of course we should work hard to ensure our health system is efficient and that we get value for the money we spend, but we need to move past viewing health spending as a crisis, and look at the opportunities. The Greens believe pharmacy is a key element of that.”
Senator di Natale reiterated the Greens’ existing promise to fully fund opioid substitution co-payments, reducing financial risk to pharmacies which provide the service.
Point one: Senator di Natale described the medicines safety cost of nearly $1.4 billiion a year, outlined in PSA’s report, as “alarming”.
“This alarming statistic demonstrates how important pharmacists are. We support your call for this to be a national health priority, and for further action to be taken to address this critical problem.”
Point two: “The Australian Greens support providing funding for pharmacists to be embedded within healthcare teams, particularly in residential aged care facilities,” wrote Senator di Natale.
“We know how critical your work is, and that greater investment in this way will lead to long term savings, both economically and socially.”
Point three: While the Greens plan to wait until the MBS Taskforce has complete its recommendations regarding who can access allied health items on the MBS, Senator di Natale wrote that “in the interim, however, we support the intent of the recommendation of greater funding for pharmacists to provide medication management services through transparent funding mechanisms”.
“We also have a $3.5 billion plan to reform primary healthcare, which will provide greater support for people with chronic illnesses and additional funding of $750 per year per patient for access to allied health services.
“This additional support, which would complement existing MBS items, will faciliate a range of professions, including pharmacists, providing greater support to patients with chronic illnesses.”
Point five: Senator di Natale wrote that the “lack of transparency in the current community pharmacy agreement is very concerning”.
“I have been advocating for greater transparency and reform of how the agreement is negotiated for many years now. The inclusion of the PSA as a signatory to the agreement is a welcome step, which we support. However, greater reform to how community pharmacy services are funded is also required.”
PSA national president Dr Christopher Freeman said that “To meet community health needs, we must ensure pharmacists can practise to their full potential, develop within a team of health professionals and have a quality agenda for the services and care they deliver.
“PSA looks forward to working closely with an incoming Government to empower pharmacists to do more to deliver better healthcare for all Australians.”