Pharmacists sick of medical certificate stoush


Comments from the RACGP head that pharmacists advertise absence from work certificates “as if it’s like toothpaste” are unsubstantiated, says leader

Absence from work certificates issued by community pharmacists are legitimate and save many Australian workers time and money, emphasises Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone.

His defence of community pharmacists comes after a 7NEWS segment about the profession’s ability to offer and advertise the service, in which RACGP president Karen Price shared her concerns.

 “We don’t want healthcare advertised as if it’s like toothpaste,” said Dr Price.

Mr Tassone said Dr Price’s comments are “unsubstantiated” and “may be mistaken for pharmacies merely trying to raise awareness of the service being available to their patients”.

The segment also called into question the legitimacy of pharmacist-provided certificates, with Dr Price saying some businesses may not accept certificates from pharmacists.

“Absence from work certificates issued by community pharmacists save many Australian workers time and are authorised by the Fair Work Act 2009,” Mr Tassone told AJP.

“Under the guidelines, the issuing of an absence from work certificate must be within the scope of practice of the pharmacist, acting within their competency and professional expertise.”

He said community pharmacists take their responsibilities under the Act seriously.

“Pharmacists need to carefully consider whether or not the illness or injury that is the subject of the certificate is within their recognised area of practice,” he said.

“Certificates document the professional opinion of a pharmacist that a person is, or will be, unfit for work for a period due to illness or injury – generally for no more than two days.”

Sarah Stoddart, Director of Vitality Law Australia, said that if diagnosing the employee’s particular illness or injury is within the scope of a pharmacist’s practice, then “there is no reason why an absence from work certificate issued by a pharmacist would not be sufficient evidence of the employee’s illness or injury”. 

While an employer can ask the employee to provide evidence that they were unable to work due to an illness or injury, “contrary to what has been reported, the Fair Work Act does not specify that an employee who takes personal leave must provide a medical certificate as evidence of the injury or illness affecting their ability to work,” she told AJP.

Rather, under the Act, the employee must give the employer evidence “that would satisfy a reasonable person” that leave was taken due to the employee being unfit for work due to an illness or injury.

“Unless there is a specific provision in an employee’s employment contract which provides that a medical certificate issued by a medical practitioner must be provided as evidence of an employee’s need for personal leave – and assuming the relevant illness or injury is within the scope of a pharmacist’s practice – an employer would be taking a significant risk in questioning the production of an absence of work certificate signed by a pharmacist to evidence an employee’s absence from work due to illness or injury,” said Ms Stoddart.

“The only circumstances in which an employer may refuse to accept an absence of work certificate signed by a pharmacist is if the employee’s employment contract specifies that a particular type of evidence is to be produced which does not include an absence of work certificate signed by a pharmacist, or if the particular illness or injury is outside the scope of a pharmacist’s practice.”

Mr Tassone insisted that pharmacists are providing a valuable service.

“The recognition of pharmacists as eligible signatories of such certificates saves many Australian workers time and money through the convenient location of pharmacies and the accessibility of pharmacists – usually available at short notice and without an appointment,” he said.

“Given the waiting time that might be required for a doctor’s appointment, the fact that workers who are legitimately ill or injured can obtain an absence from work certificate more conveniently at a pharmacy is actually a plus for productivity, not a minus.

“It’s important that the public are made fully aware of their options to make an informed choice about accessing care that suits their needs.”

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