Pharmacies in Melbourne’s north-west are participating in a pilot advocating for breast cancer screening

Between July and September, select pharmacies in Moonee Ponds, Ascot Vale and Maribyrnong will promote breast screening to their customers.

One of the first pharmacies to undergo BreastScreen Victoria’s special training program is the Priceline Pharmacy at the Highpoint Shopping Centre, where staff are now equipped to understand breast cancer risk and symptoms as well as how to raise conversations about the importance of screening.

Pharmacist manager Rikinder Shergill, who has a strong focus on professional services, says that when BreastScreen Victoria approached the pharmacy, she was keen to take part.

“One point is the business side, as they do help with a little bit of funding, but the other is getting pharmacy out on that forefront of doing other things besides just dispensing,” Ms Shergill told the AJP.

“Being involved in pre-screening education and awareness of disease states is part of that, and broadens what we do.

“And being a woman, anything that’s about raising awareness of women’s health is a good thing, and important to me.”

The initiative is part of a larger project which aims to increase screening rates among Arabic and Italian women, who are an under-screened cohort.

The project, Ophelia, is a partnership between BreastScreen Victoria and Deakin University, and the pilot program is one of the interventions to emerge from it.

Several interventions were identified following research into barriers preventing women of Arabic and Italian heritage, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, from participating in breast screening.

As well as the pharmacy program, these interventions included the development of a culturally inclusive communication strategy; cultural awareness, safety and customer service training for breast screening site staff; training women from communities as peer health educators; and trial of an Aboriginal gown with artwork.

Ms Shergill says that BreastScreen Victoria has provided the pharmacy with communication aids such as resources in languages including Italian and Arabic.

“But from a pharmacy point of view we’re promoting it to everyone,” she says.

“We’ve been doing it a week, and had a really good response. Everyone seems to have that personal experience of breast cancer – they know someone or they have a friend who has gone through it, and I think that helps us have those conversations.”

She says that the pilot is a great example of collaborative health care.

“There’s more awareness that pharmacists have a lot of knowledge and not just about medications,” she says.

“We also try to be more available when it comes to healthcare. Sometimes you just want to have a general conversation rather than having a formal appointment.

“GP clinics are very structured and they only have a certain amount of time that’s allocated per patient. A community pharmacy is somewhere you can walk in and that makes the customer a little bit more comfortable.

“As health professionals we all need to work together,” she told the AJP. “We all have different roles, and when those roles are in collaboration we do get the best patient outcomes, which is what we need to aim for.”

Participating pharmacies are:

  • Puckle Street Discount Pharmacy, Moonee Ponds
  • Ascot Vale Pharmacy,, Ascot Vale
  • Priceline Pharmacy, Highpoint Shopping Centre, Maribyrnong
  • Amcal Moonee Ponds, Moonee Ponds Central, Moonee Ponds