Rural and metro pharmacy services should be equal: Guild

AIHW 2016 figure: Map of pharmacist accessibility scores

Workforce supply challenges in community pharmacy mean Aboriginal people face substantial costs for pharmacy services and restricted availability of these services

A new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has examined the distribution of clinical health workforce supply based on 2014 data.

The report scored health professions regarding workforce supply; population dispersion; land size; and proximity to services.

It found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are much more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to live in areas with higher probabilities of pharmacist workforce supply challenges.

Nearly 79,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in areas with the lowest scores for accessibility to pharmacists.

No areas in major cities or inner regional areas were found to have these same low scores.

“Because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have higher rates of chronic and ongoing illnesses than non-Indigenous people, they often have complex medication needs,” says the AIHW report.

“Despite this, they often face substantial costs for pharmacy services, compounded by the restricted availability of these services and cultural barriers to appropriate levels of service.

The Pharmacy Guild agrees that there are barriers for indigenous people.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Peoples have by far the worst health outcomes and the largest inequity in health care provision of any identifiable group in the Australian population,” says the Guild.

“There are a number of initiatives by which community pharmacies are working to improve access to PBS medicines and pharmacy services, as well as improving quality use of medicines, by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

“The standard of health care for rural areas should be equal to the standards available in metropolitan areas. The Guild is guided by the principle that all Australians have a right to equity and access to community pharmacy services,” it says.

Approximately 20% of the total 5,350 community pharmacies across Australia are located within Categories 2-6 of the Pharmacy Access/Remoteness Index of Australia, the Guild points out, and 425 local communities have just a single pharmacy in their town.

“The professional training, skill and knowledge of the community pharmacists should be better utilised in rural/remote areas, particularly in areas where access to other health professionals may be limited,” says the Guild.

“Community pharmacy is the only health professional service to have expanded its rural services over the last decade.”

In a move welcomed by the Guild, the Prime Minister also recently announced that remuneration for dispensing medicines under the Remote Area Aboriginal Health Service (RAAHS) Program will be adjusted to be equivalent to the PBS dispensing fee when not a bulk supply.

“The announcement … is a very welcome and common sense change to the arrangements in the best interests of Closing the Gap in Aboriginal morbidity and mortality,” said National President of the Guild, George Tambassis.

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