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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