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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  1. Peter Allen

    It’s always the same. When the doctors union grizzle, its almost always about using their unique magical mystical powers… to protect their income.

    Is there a Medicare item “Very short consultation” for issuing a medical certificate, or for certifying a document? Because there really should be.

    • LM

      No, However there is a medicare item number for discussing the pros of Covid 19 Vaccination (seperate from giving one). How often does a pharmacist discuss this with their patients on a daily basis for Nought

  2. Irvine Newton

    Such a shame that the RACGP lowers itself to fighting financial turf wars when it’s role is in representing doctors’ professional rights and responsibilities. Why don’t they maintain their professional dignity and stick to what they do best and leave the crass money stuff to the AMA?
    I retired as a practicing pharmacist 5 years ago but during my time, I provided many medical certificates to very appreciative patients. I have no doubt I was every bit as careful in establishing the bona fides of those people as the local GP’s (who were often unavailable at the time)
    Sometimes we should ask patients what they think? Might just get some interesting answers.
    Irvine Newton OAM
    Past recipient, Australian Pharmacist of the Year award.

    • James

      In reply to Irvine, doctors do stick to what they know best – that is diagnosis and treatment. Pharmacists are not trained to diagnose. It is they who should stick to what they know best which is to supply the medications in accordance with the prescription.

      • (Mary) Kay Dunkley

        James I do not think you read Irvine’s comment very carefully as your comment is not a response to what he said. Firstly he was talking about the RACGP not doctors. There was no mention of diagnosis. Providing a medical certificate is not diagnosis.

      • Sean

        A medical certificate does not constitute a diagnosis or provide treatment recommendations. Besides, diagnosing and treating specific conditions (e.g. various forms of candidiasis, cold and flu, nicotine dependence, reflux, etc.) actually does fall within the scope of practice of a pharmacist. I can hardly blame you for your narrow view of pharmacists’ scope of practice as “supplying medications in accordance with the prescription” when ridiculous workloads force pharmacists to essentially work as full-time dispense techs with a [very] minor side hustle in Quality Use of Medicines™.

  3. Kevin Hayward

    Fair Work Australia says with regard to Types of evidence needed for sick / carer’s leave “Medical certificates or statutory declarations are examples of acceptable forms of evidence. While there are no strict rules on what type of evidence needs to be given, the evidence has to convince a reasonable person that the employee was genuinely entitled to the sick or carer’s leave.”
    So why only pick on Pharmacists? Why not pick on JPs or any other professional eligible to witness a Stat Dec?

  4. Jarrod McMaugh

    Can I just say that promoting dental health is a very important public health message; comparing any health message to the promotion of toothpaste isn’t a bad thing!, despite the intent behind that comparison.

  5. Jenny

    I don’t know whether it’s just me. The majority of the patients that come to the pharmacy to get a medical certificate usually just want to chuck a sickie. I had people telling me – “I am constipated today” “I have a mild headache” “I have hay fever” or “I just feel tired”

    I am always sceptical and have turned some patients away because the reasons they gave me are just ridiculous. Too tired to go to work but you seem to be happily shopping for cosmetics or playing music on your phone? You have a headache, have you tried taking Panadol? Have a hayfever? Try some antihistamines?

    I just don’t have sympathy or respect for some of these people.

    Any of that is an easy fix….if you are trying to come up with an excuse, at least make an effort? The general public seem to think it’s just shopping at rejection shop to get out of exam, work, assignment or whatever….

    • Sean

      a bit like the rikodeine runners who don’t even bother trying to put on a fake cough. C’mon lads, commit to the bit

  6. I am a pharmacist and don’t provide any sickness certificate or documents attestation services. What can you do in 30 dollars per hour job when i have to dispese 150 to 220 prescription in one shift. I get fully exhausted and get no money for these services including advice on phone, bp testing, glucose testing, processing ndds forms and items and so on. These services should be paid directly to the pharmacist providing these services but not to some rich and greedy owners who have been milking poor pharmacists dry. I am not against the small owner operated pharmacies, they can still provide these services.

    • Michael Post

      I empathise with your position.
      My concern re: medical certificates is the litigation that has occurred due to scope of practice scrutiny and employers challenging the pharmacist that supplied the certificate to their employees. Employee pharmacists that write the certificate carry the liability yet do not generally receive appropriate financial remuneration for the activity.

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