Pharmacists are a “second best” alternative to GP care, says the AMA’s national president

The AMA has slammed the findings of the Queensland Parliament’s Committee Report into the Establishment of a Pharmacy Council and Transfer of Pharmacy Ownership, saying patients will be “big losers” if pharmacists expand their scope of practice.

National president Dr Tony Bartone says that the committee has delivered recommendations that will “significantly” fragment health care.

The recommendations will also lead to worse outcomes for patients, he says.

“The Report contains recommendations to expand the role of pharmacists, including in relation to the prescribing of medications,” Dr Bartone said.

“It is well known that the more that other non-medical health professionals are involved in prescribing, the higher risks of medication error and adverse reactions,” Dr Bartone says.

The AMA’s submission to the inquiry had warned against pharmacists being able to practice to their full scope.

“We are in the middle of a real effort to introduce the medical home concept in Australia, where GPs are able to coordinate patient care, with full access to a patient’s medical history,” he says.

“GPs are the only trained primary health professionals who have the skills needed to properly and comprehensively diagnose patients, prescribe the right medications, and refer patients to other health care providers as appropriate.

“These are skills that come from years of observing and examining patients, and understanding how text books and the real live patient overlap.

“Clinical training is an art that has its foundations over the centuries, and cannot be learnt by simply and solely reading texts.”

He said that GPs work closely with pharmacists and respect their expertise, particularly regarding the quality use of medicines, but the report “totally ignores the well-understood need in our health system to strengthen the coordination of care, and the need to encourage patients to have a long-term relationship with a usual GP or general practice”.

“The Report also opens up a serious conflict of interest for pharmacists who will gain commercially through prescribing of medications, and then being able to dispense them,” Dr Bartone says.

“We already know that pharmacies sell many complementary medicines that are not backed by clinical evidence.

“This highlights the retail pressure they are under to sell products to consumers regardless of patient need.”

If the recommendations were adopted, Australia would be set on a dangerous course, he says.

“We have a GP-led model of care that is the envy of the world, and we know that GPs are highly accessible in most parts of the country.

“We have primary care outcomes that are second to none.

“Any access concerns cannot be solved by providing a second-best alternative.

“The Australian community deserves more than this. We need to build on this proven model of GP-led care, rather than undermine it by giving in to the retail interests of the pharmacy sector,” Dr Bartone said.