Pharmacists at ‘frontline’ of billion-dollar OTC sector: Hunt

Working with PSA, Guild and pharmacists is a “real pathway” for giving Australians better access to OTC meds, Health Minister tells World Self Medication Assembly

Being able to access safe and reliable medicines in a way to assists in preventive health is critical, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a video address to the World Self Medication Industry (WSMI) General Assembly in Sydney on Wednesday.

“You play a fundamental role in that,” he told industry delegates.

“In Australia the non-prescription sector is a $5.2 billion industry, it’s an extraordinarily significant economic driver and a source for preventive health.”

Minister Hunt stated the government is working with the Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI) to ensure safety standards are highly maintained, and is also working with the TGA to deliver these.

“Our reforms here include what we’re doing with the TGA to expedite approvals but at the same time ensure that appropriate standards are met.”

Extending access to non-prescription drugs is also on the agenda.

“So long as we’ve met our safety and quality standards, what we want to do is extend access,” said Minister Hunt.

“We’re looking at proposals that have been put forward by ASMI that allow potential for people to have greater access at the right time.

“Pharmacy is a frontline here. By working with the pharmacists in Australia – the Pharmacy Guild and PSA – we have a real pathway forward to giving people better access,” said Minister Hunt.

“[Non-script medicines are] a quarter of our entire pharmaceuticals sector here – but above all else it’s about improvement of the quality of care of patients.”

Paul Sinclair, President of the Community Pharmacy section for the International Pharmaceutical Federation, told delegates that Australia has had significant patient engagement through non-prescription medicines for a very long time under the community pharmacy model.

“Pharmacists are medicines experts committed to patient care,” said Mr Sinclair.

“They are trained to assess a patient’s health needs to see whether they require self care or need referral.”

However he pointed out that the pharmacy landscape is changing and pharmacists need to keep up.

“Pharmacy in every marketplace worldwide is changing rapidly,” he said, adding that under the current model pharmacists are doing more for less remuneration.

“Increased automation means savings are passed onto the payer,” said Mr Sinclair.

“The retail model relies on heavy discounting used purely to drive customers into a larger health and beauty retail platform. This model is very difficult to be part of unless you’re a market leader.”

While dispensing is a core competency for pharmacists, they will need to provide services beyond that to survive, he said, suggesting three core areas for pharmacists in primary healthcare are:

  • Health promotion;
  • Screening and/or risk assessment services; and
  • Disease state management services.

“Pharmacists have a role in helping the patient understand their medications, complementary medicines and supplements … and to manage health issues without having to wait days to see a doctor.”

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