Profession’s role discussed as $1 million funding announced for community pharmacists in drought-stricken regional areas to deliver mental health support
The role of community pharmacists in mental health care has been recognised with $1 million in new funding to train those in regional areas to identify and assist patients with mental health issues, the NSW Government announced on Thursday.
“Community pharmacists deal with people across the entire mental health spectrum. They may also be a person’s first point of contact in accessing health and support when it comes to mental health,” said Leslie Williams, Member for Port Macquarie, on behalf of Deputy Premier John Barilaro at the Guild NSW Branch Parliamentary Dinner in Sydney.
“With this additional training, they will be able to provide much needed mental health support to their communities, providing genuine support for people who need it, easing the burden on frontline services.
During this unprecedented drought, mental health issues are more prevalent than ever in regional communities.
“We know that it is tough out there, which is why we are working hand in hand with mental health services to make sure people receive the help they need,” Mrs Williams said.
“We hope with this added support from the NSW government that there will continue to be such an important role for pharmacists to play when it comes to mental health.”
The Pharmacy Guild welcomed the funding.
“It is great to have this kind of support for the role that pharmacists play in their communities, particularly in rural and regional areas where access to other healthcare professionals may not be available,” said Pharmacy Guild NSW branch president David Heffernan.
“Everyone is grappling with suicide and mental health – this is one step in a positive direction.”
PSA also welcomed the funding announcement.
“Pharmacists are trusted and accessible health professionals, often coming in contact with consumers with mental health issues, and for the majority of people with lived experience of mentalhealth issues treatment is best provided in the community,” said PSA NSW President Professor Peter Carroll.
Professor Carroll said it was pleasing to see collaborative efforts involving both the Guild and the PSA have resulted in tangible investment in supporting the pharmacy workforce to improve the mental health of the NSW community.
“The PSA fully supports the announcement by the NSW Government and looks forward to working with them to equip pharmacists in further supporting these communities,” he said.
In March this year, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced a $5 million pharmacy mental health trial program, which had a tentative start date set for 1 July, however this has not yet begun.
The Guild aims to commence patient recruitment next year, a spokesperson confirmed to the AJP.
Can pharmacists do more?
Mr Heffernan also used the dinner event as an opportunity to promote expanded roles for pharmacists.
“As pharmacists we want to do more and we’re trained to do more. There are legislative pathways where we can see ourselves doing more but there are certain restrictions,” he said.
“There are many other avenues that we want to explore, that we know we can do well and especially in the chronic disease states.”
NSW Shadow Minister for Health Ryan Park acknowledged the Guild’s push for pharmacists to do more in his address to attendees.
“We know and understand the enormous strain on the public health system currently in NSW and more broadly in Australia,” Mr Park said.
“Unfortunately for many people, particularly in disadvantaged communities, the expense of visiting the local GP or the time it takes to get an appointment with the local GP is placing excessive strains particularly on our emergency departments.
“That’s particularly pronounced in rural and regional areas,” he said.
“The role pharmacy plays in rural and regional areas is critical to these communities. The drought they’re experiencing now is having a huge impact on the health of many rural communities. It’s pronounced and severe. It’s no secret that some of our regional communities continue to struggle with the number of GPs available in their local areas.
“Currently our pharmacists in my opinion are not practising to the full extent of their training. We believe that community pharmacies are part of the solution to deliver healthcare going forward,” said Mr Park.
“We have the opportunity now to look at and examine practices in other countries, particularly in the UK and Canada, how they are delivering health through community based pharmacies.
“In these countries they offer a pharmacy model that allows pharmacists to practise to the full extent of their training, and we as policy makers across the board must explore and work together to find solutions and develop better policy.”
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who has in the past rejected calls for a trial to allow pharmacists to prescribe antibiotics for urinary tract infections, did not attend the event.