Pharmacists could help ‘dire’ GP situation

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An anonymous doctor has told media more than 200 people are being turned away from GP surgeries a day in Ballarat alone… but pharmacists want to help

The medical professional spoke to the Ballarat Courier’s Rochelle Kirkham and warned of “drastic” effects on the Victorian city’s health outcomes if the Federal Government does not address the problem.

The city has a population of more than 101,000 and is part of the electorate of Ballarat, held by the Federal Opposition’s health spokesperson, Catherine King.

The anonymous doctor said that with more than 200 people a day unable to access GP care in the city, they are left with no options.

“They can’t get into a private practice and shouldn’t go to the emergency department and are being told they can’t see a doctor at walk-in clinics,” they said.

The doctor cited the case of a woman who suffers chronic urinary tract infections which respond quickly to antibiotics – when she can access a GP for a scripts.

This patient attempted to access three practices and a walk-in clinic yet was unable to get an appointment.

“The infection could get out of control and she can’t get any help,” the doctor said.

“You can imagine how irate people are getting.”

Another article published earlier this year told of a patient who had newly moved to Ballarat and who needed care to help manage a long-term thyroid condition, but was told by several GPs that their practices were not accepting new patients.

The doctor called for intervention at the federal level to address the shortage.

Ms Kirkham writes that the Department of Health has now asked the Rural Workforce Agency Victoria to take a look at “any issues” in Ballarat.

Australian Medical Association Victoria president Associate Professor Julian Rait had also identified problems with “attracting and retaining staff” in an interview with The Courier late last year.

Pharmacists say such shortages highlight the need to give pharmacists the opportunity to operate to their full scope of practice.

This would relieve pressure on doctors and ensure better health outcomes for patients, they say.

Victorian President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Anthony Tassone, called the situation in Ballarat “dire” and reflective of a general trend across the nation.

“As reported last year by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, more than more than one million Australians were putting off seeing a doctor in one year because they could not afford it,” he said.

“Add this situation to a shortage of GPs and it is clear there is a crisis – a crisis that pharmacists can help to address.”

Local pharmacist Hugh Millikan, proprietor of the Eureka Medical Centre Pharmacy in Ballarat, said community pharmacies were an important part of the health system that could be playing a bigger role to ensure all Australians were getting access to healthcare.

“We have the skills and training to do a lot more to ease the huge pressure our GP colleagues are facing,” he said.

“Easing this pressure will help deliver better health outcomes for all Australians.

“Quite simply pharmacists need to be able to operate to their full scope of practice and governments in all jurisdictions must act on this as a matter of urgency. Allowing pharmacists to operate to full scope of practice will maximise the benefits for patients by using pharmacists’ expertise in medicines which is already acknowledged by regulatory authorities.

“Already patients are benefiting from pharmacists providing more services under their scope of practice and these include vaccinations, medicine reviews, and a wide range of health screening services – to name just a few. There is so much more can, and should be doing to help patients.

“Full-scope pharmacist services could involve a form of controlled pharmacist supply that would allow access of patients to ongoing treatment of medicines for management of chronic disease or treatment of an acute infection under a validated protocol.”

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