Pharmacists ‘a wonderful and valued resource’ in mental health

rural Australia

In 2021 the mental health community pharmacy training program is expected to deliver at least 100 training workshops to more than 5,000 pharmacists and staff across eight drought-affected rural or regional local health districts in NSW

Bronnie Taylor, NSW Minister for Mental Health, Regional Youth and Women, has responded in state Parliament to a question by Taylor Martin by praising the way community pharmacy is handling mental health issues and the scheme’s rollout.

When the Liberal Party’s Mr Martin asked how the program was supporting regional and rural communities, Ms Taylor replied that in regional NSW, pharmacies are “often the first place people go to for health issues, so regional pharmacists and their staff have a significant social footprint in their communities”.

“That is why the Government has directed that $1 million of its almost $12 million drought relief extension package go towards the NSW branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia to train community pharmacists and pharmacy staff in regional areas to identify and assist patients with mental health issues,” she said.

The scheme was announced in July 2020 by Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Ms Taylor.

“People trust their pharmacists and this training equips more allied health professionals in our regions with the skills to recognise and respond to mental health needs,” Ms Taylor told Parliament.

“In 2021 the mental health community pharmacy training program will deliver at least 100 training workshops to over 5,000 pharmacists and staff across eight drought affected rural or regional local health districts in NSW.

“The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has engaged experts, who have developed the courses tailored specifically for pharmacists.

“The courses on offer include blended mental health first aid and workshops that focus on depression, anxiety, trauma‑informed care and suicide prevention.”

She said that since receiving the funding, the Pharmacy Guild has “actively” promoted the program to all 1,483 pharmacies and 7,085 pharmacists in the country’s most populous state.

“In addition to the planned workshops, 74 blended mental health first aid courses are scheduled from October 2020 to June 2021.

“Over 700 pharmacists and staff are already registered for courses, with more courses still being added to the program.

“Due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 most training is being delivered via self‑paced online learning or a live virtual classroom.

“The silver lining is that this benefits many regional and rural pharmacy staff who will not need to travel away from their communities to attend training.”

She noted that face‑to‑face workshops are also being planned for Newcastle, Orange and Dubbo.

“The NSW branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia has done a fantastic job of organising the development, promoting and rolling out of the courses in a short space of time,” Ms Taylor said.

“I thank everyone involved in this important program for their hard work in support of pharmacy staff and our regional and remote communities.

“Pharmacists play a crucial role in rural and regional NSW. It is an extremely well‑respected profession.

“As a nurse, I would often consult with a pharmacist. GPs and doctors will say that a pharmacist’s knowledge of medication often far surpasses their own.

“Pharmacists are a wonderful and valued resource. We thank them for their strong commitment to mental health in NSW.”

Responding to Ms Taylor’s remarks, Guild NSW branch president David Heffernan told the AJP that the initiative allows community pharmacy “to really stand up and be part of the solution – even if it’s just one part of the patient’s journey in the mental health space”.

The Guild has received significant interest in the training from members, he said.

Mr Heffernan said that the Guild has been “very happy” with progress to date in implementing the program.

“We’re hoping that this will be the start of further developments in the mental health space in pharmacy,” he said.

Given challenges such as drought, bushfire and COVID-19, mental health has become a key issue for “the whole community – not just community pharmacy,” Mr Heffernan said.

“Everyone has a real focus on it, everyone from the Prime Minister to the Premier – they’ve all stated their intentions to give mental health a primary focus, and we support that.”

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