Push for pharmacists to dispense more medicines without script

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As GPs and hospitals come under increasing pressure from COVID-19, it “just makes sense” for pharmacists to do more, says Guild… but RACGP labels it a “cynical ploy”

Pharmacists should be allowed to dispense more medicines and provide more vaccinations so patients can avoid a GP visit, the Pharmacy Guild has told mainstream media amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The last thing you want to do in a pandemic is create a cluster where sick people congregate with people with the virus,” Pharmacy Guild vice president and Queensland branch president Trent Twomey told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Tuesday.

“Frankly, state and federal governments can’t afford not to utilise the pharmacy workforce.”

The Guild reiterated its call for pharmacists to dispense medicines like the contraceptive pill, preventative asthma inhalers, blood pressure tablets and antibiotics for urinary tract infections.

A Queensland trial set to roll out this year will allow pharmacists to dispense the oral contraceptive pill and antibiotics for urinary tract infections without the need for a prescription.

In the vaccination space, pharmacists have made regular gains in most states and territories. Over the past month, it was announced that QLD and NSW pharmacists will be able to administer influenza vaccination for those aged 10 and up.

Queensland Health has announced that trained pharmacists in the state will be able to administer cholera, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (dTpa); diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and poliomyelitis (dTpa-IPV); Haemophilus influenza type B; hepatitis A; meningococcal ACWY; poliomyelitis; and measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccines to people aged 16 years and above.

The Pharmacy Guild also wants access to all travel vaccinations to 10 years of age.

Pharmacists were “the second largest health workforce in the country, behind nursing”, Mr Twomey told Fairfax media, with 35,000 pharmacists and 65,000 pharmacy assistants giving patients “unparalleled accessibility”.

However the RACGP has labelled the calls as “a cynical ploy from the Pharmacy Guild to exploit COVID-19 to achieve long sought after changes that will hand greater power to retail pharmacies.”

“It is yet another example of the pharmacy sector trying to place financial gains ahead of patient care and safety,” said RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon.

“Ensuring a patient’s continuity of care with their GP is vital. We don’t just hand out medicines, we talk to our patients about preventative care, provide a check-up and carefully record their medical history.”

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild told AJP: “It just makes sense as GPs and hospital emergency departments come under increasing pressure, including through the emergence of COVID-19, that pharmacists should be authorised to practise to their full scope.

“This is not an intrusion into doctor territory, but a legitimate recognition that pharmacists in comparable countries are able to do more within their existing training, and Australian patients should benefit from the expertise of pharmacists to take pressure off a stressed health system,” said the spokesperson.

“For example, if a patient was self-isolating because of COVID-19 concerns, and that patient ran out of their prescription medicines – we believe a local pharmacist should be able to dispense and deliver that medicine under continued dispensing provisions, without requiring that patient to sit in a doctor’s waiting room for a script.”

The RACGP President said that there were other avenues available to fight coronavirus.

“If the Pharmacy Guild was serious about helping Australians during a pandemic, they would stop their opposition to an easing of dispensing restrictions. This would enable people to access two-month supplies of commonly prescribed medicines,” he said.

Commenters on the Fairfax article were split on the issue.

“Look at all these doctors who are more worried about protecting their turf than the public welfare,” said one.

“Any move from the protective pharmaceutical mob to gain more power must be ruled out,” added another.

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