When a Victorian pharmacy changed a promotional sign to advertise absence from work certificates, nobody was expecting it to go viral

The sign, outside the Torquay Pharmacy near Bells Beach, Victoria, had been promoting flu shots for a while, said pharmacist-in-charge Sarah French.

“We ran out of flu shots, and thought, ‘What else can we promote? What don’t people know about?’” she told the AJP.

“Someone suggested that as it was cold and flu season, and a lot of people don’t know we have the service, we’d promote these.”

A passer-by snapped the sign and posted the picture on Instagram under the account @browncardigan, where interest quickly took off and a number of commenters discussed the potential to have “sickies,” while not sick.

The New Daily picked up the story, publishing it under the headline, “Too easy? Pharmacists can now give sick notes”.

It spoke to AMA president Dr Tony Bartone, who said that pharmacist absence from work certificates were a “missed opportunity” for continuous health care.

Torquay Pharmacy's sign. Image courtesy @browncardigan via Instagram.

Torquay Pharmacy’s sign. Image courtesy @browncardigan via Instagram.

“It’s a glorified document, and doesn’t do anything for long-term care,” Dr Bartone said.

Ms French said the pharmacy’s staff were surprised at the attention.

“It’s certainly not ‘news’ news,” she says. “It’s been in the media in the past, saying we’re stepping on doctors’ turf.

“The sign hasn’t sent people to us in flocks, it’s just made them aware that they don’t need to see a doctor if they just need a day to recover.”

The issue of sick notes had flared up earlier this year, with Innex Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, telling News Corp media that “some bosses would be sceptical of notes obtained from a chain store pharmacy”.

At the time Chemist Warehouse absence from work certificates, priced at $20, were singled out by mainstream media outlets.

As the Guild pointed out in March, pharmacists have been able to issue such certificates since 2009.

Now, the Guild has told the New Daily that “Pharmacies do not ‘sell’ absence from work certificates, any more than doctors do”.

“Under the Fair Work Act, pharmacists have been allowed to issue absence from work certificates for about ten years,” a spokesperson told the AJP today.

“There’s a pattern to it: every six months or so a new mainstream journalist finds out about this, and writes about it as if it were a brand new thing.

“And every time that happens the usual suspects from the AMA squawk self-interestedly about fragmentation of care.”

Meanwhile in Torquay, there’s no sign of a turf war.

“We have a good relationship with our doctors,” says Ms French.

“We service the local nursing home here, so we have to be in contact with doctors pretty regularly about patients there.

“We certainly haven’t heard any bad feedback about us doing medical certificates from doctors: they’re pretty busy and probably appreciate not getting mild cases that people don’t need to see a doctor for.”

Patients aren’t always able to visit their preferred doctor on the day they’re ill, she says, and the local walk-in clinic is often busy.

“This takes the pressure off doctors. And if we think the person does need a doctor’s care we certainly refer them, but sometimes it could be a flare-up of an existing condition – for example if they’re being treated for back pain we know they’re under the care of a doctor, and they can have a day off to recover.

“It’s usually pretty basic things like a tension headache or a cough or cold.

“And we get doctors referring people to us for those minor ailments, because we know the product range better than them and have experience treating people with OTC medicines.

“Doctors and pharmacists should use the relationship positively and bounce off each other.”