Nats embrace pharmacist UTI prescribing

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack with Judy Plunkett and NSW Guild president David Heffernan.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack with Judy Plunkett and NSW Guild president David Heffernan.

The National Party has made enabling pharmacists to prescribe trimethoprim for acute UTIs one of its official policies

At the National Party’s 2019 conference in Inverell, NSW over the weekend, party member and Port Macquarie pharmacy owner Judy Plunkett had her motion about trimethoprim carried unanimously.

The conference coincides with a trip by members of the NSW branch of the Pharmacy Guild around the state, which is currently seeing representatives of the organisation visit a number of locations in order to brief members on topics such as the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement negotiations.

Ms Plunkett, a member of the NSW Guild branch committee, said that National Party members who wish for a motion to be put to the conference can submit it to their local branch, which then decides which motions to submit to the conference on the member’s behalf.

This year she submitted three motions, including that pharmacists be able to prescribe and supply trimethoprim under strict protocols.

“This is especially relevant to the Nationals, as in rural and regional areas there are often no doctors available at short notice,” she said.

“We’re a busy, growing town and there’s just not enough doctors that work after hours during business hours.”

Ms Plunkett said that after business hours and on weekends, women with acute UTIs often present to the pharmacy seeking help, but she is only able to direct them to the local Emergency Department.

“There’s really good evidence that there’s large numbers of hospitalisations due to UTIs that could be avoided if they were treated sooner,” she said.

Doctors have to date slammed calls by pharmacy stakeholders to enable pharmacists to prescribe short-term antibiotics for the condition, claiming this would worsen the problem of antibiotic resistance; and in Queensland, have requested that the state government halt the trial into the proposal.

Ms Plunkett called on doctor groups to understand that pharmacists wish to work collaboratively with them, rather than against them.

“It’s not about encroaching at all,” she said. “If it’s not fixed by a three-day treatment, we’d definitely tell them they must see their GP!

“It’s not about us taking anything away from the doctors – it’s about us providing a service for people in need when there is no GP available. That is the whole motivation for it. It’s a women’s health issue.”

She cited international evidence from countries including New Zealand, the UK and Canada which showed that instead of furthering antibiotic resistance, pharmacists prescribing for UTIs were prescribing in line with protocol, and managing the conditions, better than doctors.

“There was no-one who spoke against the motion,” she said of the conference. “There was widespread support and a loud, ‘hear hear’ when it was carried.”

Nationals MP Leslie Williams, deputy speaker of the Legislative Assembly and Member for Port Macquarie, will now write to NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard to advise him about the Nationals’ new policy.

In May 2019, Mr Hazzard had rejected the idea of implementing a trial for pharmacist prescribing for UTIs.

Pharmacy Guild of NSW branch president David Heffernan welcomed the new Nationals policy.

“When it comes back unanimous, it’s a very good sign that people see the merit of such a policy,” he said. “It’s a good litmus test. There were doctors in the room, too, and there was no opposition to it.”

“Whilst there’s a long way to go before getting it embedded, it does help, and we’ll see what comes out of the Queensland trial as well.

“We’re behind the rest of the world in this respect, and the New Zealand experience has shown the merits of it.”

Mr Heffernan said that the Guild had also been able to bring Nationals members, including Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, to local pharmacies to show them the role pharmacies play in towns such as Inverell, and discuss issues facing the sector.

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