Pharmacy Guild highlights rural service gaps and doctor shortages to bolster argument for prescribing rights, more funding and recognition
Community pharmacies are struggling with workforce shortages and workforce distribution inequities, on top of problems with accessing appropriately funded training and services, says the Pharmacy Guild in its submission to the National Rural Health Commissioner.
The Commissioner is currently exploring policy options to improve access, distribution and quality of rural allied health services, based on longstanding evidence of significant maldistribution of various health professionals across Australia.
A report by the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) on the decline in the rural health workforce predicts that by 2028, rural Australia will only have half the number of pharmacists compared to metropolitan areas (52 as compared to 113 per 100,000 population), the Guild points out.
“This is extremely concerning for the Guild and our members and needs urgent attention,” it says.
Meanwhile there are approximately 307 towns in Pharmacy Access/Remoteness Index of Australia (PhARIA) 4-6 (moderately accessible, remote, very remote) that have only one pharmacy, “and in many cases the pharmacist is the only health professional in the town”.
“Data indicates that there are 57 towns in PhARIA 4-6 with one pharmacy and no medical centre,” the Guild points out.
“If rural and remote community pharmacies cannot recruit or retain staff as the RFDS report predicts, then there will be a significant number of Australians that will no longer have access to medicines and primary care services.”
The Guild says there is a need for more funding, workforce incentives and loadings for rurality to address variation in costs and resources required for a rural health professional to provide equivalent health services to their metropolitan counterparts.
Additionally it says service gaps and doctor shortages can be addressed by pharmacists working to their full scope of practice, including prescribing medicines and administering more vaccines.
“Pharmacists are medicine experts and if supported to work to full scope of practice, as autonomous prescribers, can assist in addressing the workload of managing medications in rural communities,” says the Guild.
“There are many examples that Guild rural members share that describe how they have no GP in town which means, without an increase scope of practice, there is no way of maintaining health services which leads to rural communities shrinking as people are forced to relocate to regional centres.”
However while the Guild wants autonomous prescribing rights, it doesn’t want to see the opposite happen – dispensing of medicines by other health professionals outside the pharmacy.
“The Guild is concerned about the suggestion that dispensing of medicines could occur as an ‘extended community medication role’, either by other health professionals, or outside the pharmacy,” it says.
“Current national law enables doctors and registered nurses to supply certain scheduled medicines in remote and isolated areas.
“Recognising the difficulties of supply unique to isolated areas, there are not the same stringent restrictions on premises in these locations.”
The Guild’s concerns about the community pharmacy rural situation echo those voiced by the PSA in its submission.
Further consultation on the pharmacy profession and community pharmacy in regards to policy options for rural health services is needed, says the Guild.
Read the Guild’s full submission here.