Shortcomings exposed

Bushfire smoke at Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra. Image by Simon Troman.
Bushfire smoke at Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra. Image by Simon Troman.

Recent disasters highlighted why pharmacists should be able to dispense asthma preventers without a script, a Guild state president says

Shortcomings in the treatment of patients with asthma were brutally exposed in the recent bushfire disaster and the related smoke haze which impacted much of NSW, the state’s Pharmacy Guild president says.  

Writing in the NSW Guild Bulletin, David Heffernan says pharmacists should be able to provide these medications without prescription.

“It makes little sense to deny people living with asthma access to the prevented through pharmacies, especially when they’ve been prescribed the preventer previously.” 

Mr Heffernan said the situation was acutely exposed during the extreme fire and smoke conditions which engulfed much of the state over this summer.

“The recent smoke haze rendered many chronic asthma sufferers in desperate need of their preventor medication,” he said.

“Preventor medication is prescription only and in the recent fire crisis unfortunately community pharmacists were limited in what they could do to help.”

Mr Heffernan said this “highlighted shortcomings in how pharmacists are utilised across the health system”.

While he congratulated the NSW government on its move to allow emergency supply of asthma prescription medications for a 90 day period in declared emergency areas, this further highlighted the problem.

“It does little for those who are in places which have been affected by smoke,” he said. 

Australia “urgently needs to be brought into line with the UK and Canada”, where there is “readily available” access to preventer medications through pharmacy, he said, “so people living with asthma aren’t forced to wait for a GP appointment just for a prescription for their asthma reliever.”

“In light of the bushfire crisis this summer, a lot needs to change. Access to asthma medication is just one. Pharmacists have the training to do more; after the bushfire crisis it has become clear pharmacists need to be playing a bigger role to help meet the health needs of their communities.”

Australia research, published in 2019, found that there was a “high proportion of reliever overuse and the low proportion of regular preventer use”, which experts said was “in complete contrast to what we would hope to see”.


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