‘Most pharmacists do not appear to be threatened.’

Is the turf war with GPs negatively impacting the image of the profession? The latest Barometer surveyed pharmacists about their thoughts

The latest UTS Community Pharmacy Barometer surveyed a sample of 364 pharmacists in November 2019, with the sample representative of the Australian community pharmacy sector.

Pharmacists and general practitioner confrontation in the media was one of the topics covered in the Barometer, the results of which were published by UTS Pharmacy this week.

The researchers queried pharmacists’ perceptions of the media coverage surrounding the differing views of opinions relating to the expansion of the pharmacist’s role, for example, GP opposition to pharmacists delivering services such as vaccination and prescribing.

Increasingly, doctor bodies such as the AMA and RACGP have been voicing concern over pharmacist scope of practice, with media outlets covering the controversy.

The Barometer asked: “What impact do you believe the current confrontation in the media between GP and pharmacy organisations is having on our public image?”

While 38% (n=138) reported that they believed the controversy was “damaging” the public image of pharmacists, the majority of respondents remained neutral (58%) on the implications.

A small group of pharmacists reported experiencing benefits from the increased media coverage (n=14, or 4%), “possibly due to resultant increases in communication between the two professions,” said the report.

“The turf wars at a political level will have some impact but on the ground pharmacists and GPs keep on working collaboratively for the benefit of all patients,” commented Emeritus Professor Charlie Benrimoj, former Head of the Graduate School of Health, on the results.

“I assumed that more pharmacists would have seen the portrayal as more damaging than this. It appears not, with business as usual persisting,” said UTS Head of Pharmacy Professor Kylie Williams.

The Barometer also asked pharmacists: “Are you holding back on the provision and implementation of new professional services because of the consistent criticism from the medical profession?”

A majority of responders were continuing to implement new professional services with 56% responding “no” to the question. However, over one quarter (28%) of pharmacists reported being affected and restraining their service provision and implementation due to the criticism. A further 16% said they were unsure.

“Most pharmacists do not appear to be threatened by the criticism, but some are concerned and are holding back on services,” said UTS Adjunct Professor John Montgomery.

“That this significant minority of pharmacists feels constrained to offer professional services probably reflects local issues that require resolution,” added pharmacist John Bell, a specialist practitioner and teacher at the UTS Graduate School of Health.

Overall, “at the local level most pharmacists and GPs work well collaboratively,” he said.

Meanwhile many respondents supported expansion of their role and scope of practice.

For example, 76% of pharmacists said they supported downscheduling for some medications as part of a minor ailments scheme; and 77% supported pharmacist prescribing.

“The vast majority support pharmacists prescribing. Clearly this is a concept that requires further elaboration and discussion,” said Mr Bell.

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