Standing our ground


Pharmacy does have a vital, and needed role in mental health care, Guild argues

There is demand and need for community pharmacy to play a vital role in mental health care, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia says.

In a letter to AJP, Guild National President George Tambassis stated the Guild’s position on the role pharmacy plays in this area after there had been criticism from allied health professionals

The letter was in response to Dr Louise Roufeil, Executive Manager Professional Practice at the Australian Psychological Society.

She wrote to AJP stating her concerns over the level of training of pharmacists’ in relation to their participation in mental health care.

The Guild response is, as follows:   

Dear Dr Roufeil

Thank you for copying me into your letter of 14 July to the Australian Journal of Pharmacy, regarding the role of community pharmacists in addressing the high prevalence of mental health disorders in the community.

The 5,500 community pharmacies across Australia are often the first port of call for many consumers in the health care system. People suffering from mental health issues deserve care as soon as possible and the accessibility of community pharmacies, and the healthcare training of pharmacists and pharmacy staff, provides these patients with timely care and advice that they need.

This will sometimes involve an informal referral to a general practitioner or psychologist – and is in no way usurping of the role of doctors or psychologists in the health system. We have never suggested that pharmacists are able to make a formal referral under the Medical Benefits Schedule.

Your criticism of mental health first aid training is noted. I must say I share the view of a post from “Amy” on the Australian Journal of Pharmacy news site, in response to your published letter.

Amy wrote: “That’s all very well to say that we are ill-equipped and should not provide mental health services. But whether we want them to or not, patients come to us with deteriorating mental health and I would like to know the best course of action (I don’t feel that ignoring their deterioration is appropriate at all!). If current Mental Health first aid is inadequate please suggest an alternative!”

As an example of the experience and responsiveness of pharmacies in relation to mental health issues, I would like to make you aware of the approach of one of our member pharmacies, Pharmacy 777 Nollamara, Nollamara, WA.

This award-winning pharmacy recognised that the local area was generally under-serviced in this field. Pharmacy owner Swarup Afsar and his team learned from their community interactions that mental health was an area of need.

They developed a collaborative mental health protocol, after consulting with eight GPs and two psychiatrists in the local area. This consultation resulted in the pharmacy promoting medication compliance checks more consistently and helping patients seek counselling. They also engaged a registered counsellor, and the pharmacy’s consultation room was modified to enable private counselling consultations.

This is just one example of the many approaches community pharmacies are taking to make a collaborative contribution towards mental health.

Community pharmacies do not have a choice about interacting with patients with mental health issues – as the most accessible of all health care destinations, the mental health issues arrive at the pharmacy oblivious to any real or perceived inter-professional boundary dispute.

Thank you for interest in the ongoing role of community pharmacy in responding to mental health patients.

George Tambassis, national president, Pharmacy Guild of Australia

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