‘Mystery’ why pharmacists were initially sidelined from rollout: Albanese

The Opposition Leader added it’s “very strange” that community pharmacists are receiving lower payments than GPs “for the same job” in administering COVID vaccinations

Pharmacists are the “very much the backbone of the community” but there’s more to go in recognising their contributions, said Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Opposition, in addressing community pharmacy owners on a Pharmacy Guild webinar hosted on 8 September.

“In the words of Joni Mitchell, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. We got a reminder of just what that means when community pharmacies were sidelined from the early stages of the rollout,” said Mr Albanese, who is the Labor Leader and Member for Grayndler, NSW.

“We knew that something was amiss … And because pharmacies were out of the picture, it somehow felt less surprising when we all realised that contrary to the government’s assertions, we were nowhere near the front of the queue.

“It is a mystery to me why you were just sidelined and not part of the discussion with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, now that you’re doing it, it is really making a positive difference.

“Now that we have you back, it feels like the world has come a bit closer to its proper shape and every vaccination booking sign that appears in a chemist window is one more ticket to going back to our normal way of life,” he said.

Anthony Albanese addresses Guild webinar viewers on 8 Sept 2021

However he also acknowledged that community pharmacists “are sacrificing fairness in their desire to work for the greater good” by providing COVID-19 vaccines despite not getting “the same rebate that GPs get for the same job”.

“I’m not quite sure what the explanation is for it, given that you would be providing exactly the same advice and putting a jab in an arm that’s – as far as I know – the efficacy of the AstraZeneca which you’re distributing, but the same with Pfizer, isn’t improved or lowered by who puts it in the arm. But it’s rather a very strange thing that is happening,” said Mr Albanese.

“Your involvement in the rollout is absolutely critical and I know that it has been very frustrating. There’s always the ‘what if?’ question—what if you had been brought in earlier? We know that countries that brought pharmacies in earlier were able to reach higher vaccination rates faster,” he said.

Medicine affordability was also raised in the webinar. Mr Albanese identified rising prescription drug costs as a burden on the national health system, especially for up to one in five Australians having trouble affording their essential medicines.

“The PBS is one of those important pillars of Australia’s universal healthcare system,” said Guild National President Trent Twomey.

He said the recent Intergenerational Report showed the PBS projections are flat over the next quarter of a century.

“It’s not being invested in, it’s not growing and what are we seeing as a result of that?

“Sure we’re seeing a lot of new and innovative medicines being listed for rare diseases as we should, but really that’s coming at a cost that average Aussies can no longer afford their basic bread-and-butter medications for chronic diseases like blood pressure, high cholesterol and mental health,” Mr Twomey argued.

Mr Albanese assured community pharmacists that the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, and pharmacist MP Emma McBride are working with the Pharmacy Guild and others to find “practical and sensible solutions”.

He finished by congratulating pharmacists on keeping their doors open to serve the community during the pandemic.

“Our reliance on pharmacists has grown, the pandemic has further confirmed that we need to look at your role,” he said.

“Labor knows that you can do more for your communities, the role of pharmacists needs to be promoted and we need to look at ways to expand your role to improve the health and wellbeing of your community.

“Pharmacists can work to their full scope of practice without duplicating or splitting care. Pharmacists are highly trained experts who offer incredible services to their community and we want you working at the top end of your scope of practice.

“You are very much the backbone of the community.”

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