The health and safety of patients must come before the interests of retail pharmacists who want to expand into care they say is best done by qualified GPs, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has warned.
In a position statement released today, the RACGP lists what it says are potential risks to patients if the role of pharmacists is increased to include services such as vaccination, cancer screening, mental illness management and the treatment of prescription drug dependence.
RACGP President Dr Frank R Jones says the suggestion by peak pharmacist bodies to expand pharmacy services raises significant concerns.
“The suggested expansion of a pharmacist’s scope sets alarm bells ringing because all preventative health interventions should be provided within a general practice where GPs can lead healthcare teams and ensure the best quality care,” Dr Jones says.
“Unlike GPs, pharmacists do not have the appropriate diagnostic skills to identify all potential health issues that arise from a consultation, nor are they equipped with the skills to carry out opportunistic preventative care.”
Dr Jones says while the RACGP welcomes the participation of other healthcare providers in patient care coordination, it needs to be done in a general practice setting and led by GPs to avoid risk to patients.
“As GPs, our number one responsibility is to safeguard patient safety,” he says.
“When care is not coordinated by a GP, patients end up with fragmented care and there is a risk that patient records, including vaccination and health check data, may not be reported to the patient’s usual practice.”
Dr Jones says because pharmacies are a retail business, pharmacists have an inherent conflict of interest.
“Expanding the role of pharmacists could lead to prescribing patterns that are influenced, or perceived to be influenced, by financial factors rather than evidence,” he says.
“The high degree of separation between prescribing and dispensing in general practice allows for objective prescribing, free of financial interests. The reason this exists is to ensure patients’ needs come first.”
He says there is value in incorporating clinical pharmacists into general practice settings, with a focus on medication safety initiatives, but the RACGP does not support primary care initiatives in pharmacies with no link to general practice.