Public is tired of AMA’s lecturing: Guild

Absence from work certificates from pharmacists are being blamed for a rise in “sickies”

The ABC’s Radio National Breakfast has reported that small businesses are concerned that sick days are increasing due to the growing popularity of pharmacy certificates… and the AMA says pharmacists should stay out of this area.

Business reporter David Taylor interviewed Canberra-based hairdressing salon owner Nicole Dwight, who said that she is “fed up” with workers taking “bogus” sick days because they are unwell following a concert or weekend away, and are affected by alcohol or lack of sleep.

Ms Dwight said that her way of dealing with these certificates was to employ staff on a casual or commission basis – that way, if “they don’t work, they don’t get paid”.

Another small business owner, Martine Lazare – who owns a beauty spa in Penrith, Sydney – said that it was “just really easy” to get these certificates and that most employees use them just to get the day off work.

“The certificates have been available since 2009 under the Fair Work Act,” Mr Taylor reported.

“Like a medical certificate, they allow an employee time off work on full pay. But unlike a medical certificate, they can be issued at a pharmacy. The guidelines say the pharmacist needs to judge whether there’s enough information to satisfy a reasonable person that the worker is sick.

“But the Australian Medical Association says it should be a GP and not a pharmacist who makes that call.”

He spoke to the AMA’s vice president, Chris Zappala, who said that “a chemist doesn’t have the necessary training and expertise to assess what someone’s medical problems are”.

Pharmacy Guild national president George Tambassis then said that he was comfortable issuing the certificates, which pharmacists can legally do.

The ABC also received a statement from ACTU secretary Sally McManus, who said that “people should not be forced to attend work when they’re sick”.

“People in low-paid jobs who aren’t getting paid a fair pay rises often get a certificate from a pharmacy because going to a doctor is too expensive,” Ms McManus said.

AMA Media tweeted a link to the story, and added: “Symptoms which prevent a patient from attending work might seem innocuous, but it could be the beginning of something more severe. Pharmacists are valuable in their field but they should not dabble in diagnosis”.

Anthony Tassone, president of the Guild’s Victorian branch, rejected this assertion, as well as the claims that absence from work certificates were causing Australians to “chuck sickies”.

“There is no evidence that I’m aware of to suggest that pharmacists issuing absence from work certificates has contributed to an increase in absenteeism,” Mr Tassone told the AJP.

“Employers may have greater expectations of their staff to present evidence of not being fit for work than they may have previously.

“If an individual is genuinely unfit for work and may put themselves and potentially others at some risk of infection or otherwise if they do work when unwell—then it probably is not reasonable to demand that they must work.”

As for the AMA’s response to the story, Mr Tassone said that “the AMA are always at the ready with a dial a quote as to what other health professionals should or shouldn’t do in their practice”.

“Their opinion is exactly that, an opinion. As a health professional group the views of our regulator, the Pharmacy Board, policy makers and the public are what matters.

“Pharmacists offering absence from work within their scope of practice offers choice to patients to access care on their preferences and terms. Pharmacists are well equipped to refer patients where necessary.

“The public—including parliamentarians—are tired of the AMA’s persistent commentary and lecturing of what others should do and how patients should access care.”

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  1. Larentina Brown

    This topic is becoming really old and boring.
    1) If the issue is patient safety, we have the necessary skills to determine whether to refer or not
    2) If the issue is stepping on GPs toes and diagnosing, I guess the AMA doesn’t really know the scope of practice for pharmacists as set by the law.

    3) If the issue is giving medical certificates for no valid reasons, I would like to know how many patients on average the GPs refuse to issue medical certificates to. I probably can guess the answer to this.
    4) Lastly, if the issue is loss of profit due to less patients paying to see a GP for medical certificates for minor ailments, well, too bad

  2. Karalyn Huxhagen

    Pharmacists have been able to provide this service since 2009 – where is the evidence of a rise in sick days?
    What there is evidence of is a lack of GPs to see these sick patients in regional, rural and remote areas. There is also evidence that the affordability of a GP visit after regular hours is beyond the average australian.
    The after hours deputising aervices that are well paid by the current Medicare ayatem do not issue medical certificates. In my area they make the patient attend a GP the next day for the medical certificate as it is not in the scope of a deputising service.

    I am not diagnosing – i am listening to the patient’s aympyoms and making a decision as to whether to refer to a GP/ED or to give symptom relief and a certificate for a limited time period.

    I am not judging fitness to work. I am following a protocol to determine whether this patient at this time is unwell.

    If the AMA put more effort into fixing the rural generalist pathway to enable more GPa to have the skills to work in a non supported environment of rural and remote Aus then pharmacists would not be the major health provider in the community.

    I am trained to manage minor illlness and ailments and a simple absence from
    Work certificate is a no brainer – I know my limits and my scope of practice.

    Fix the bigger problem AMA

  3. pana79

    Is the AMA going to blame us as well for signing Statutory Declarations for people to give to their employers to say they were too sick to work that day? Is the AMA going to go after individual people saying they don’t have the expertise to know when they are too sick to work?

  4. Tony Lee

    The key point from Larentina to me ‘is If the issue is giving medical certificates for no valid reasons, I would like to know how many patients on average the GPs refuse to issue medical certificates too. I probably can guess the answer to this.’
    Listening to customers over the years it is a rare event when a GP will not issue a certificate, be it only one day. Even with our professional training, the element of doubt is always there. I appreciate Karalyn’s very professional approach but suspect she is a minority.
    If all recipients of certificates were identified by data & made available to GP/s and pharmacists, the ‘regulars’ might be weeded out; and there are many regulars. I suspect a majority of our professions see certificates as a nuisance factor rather than profit.

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      “Karalyn’s very professional approach but suspect she is a minority”

      Based on what information would you say that Karalyn’s practice is in the minority?

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