‘The AMA should hang its head in shame’: Guild


Acting Pharmacy Guild President Anthony Tassone has written to the president of the doctor’s group, who spoke at the National Press Club on Wednesday

“There’s nothing surer in the life of a community pharmacist than an onslaught of abuse and derision from doctors’ organisations the moment anyone dares to mention a broader scope of practice for pharmacists,” writes acting Guild President Anthony Tassone, in an open letter to Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Dr Tony Bartone.

His comments follow warnings from representatives of both the AMA and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) about expanded pharmacist roles, including pharmacy health checks and prescribing.

This month, RACGP Victoria chair Dr Cameron Loy told Fairfax Media that consumers should avoid in-pharmacy health checks, claiming “these pharmacies are motivated by money, the opportunity to have more people in the store to buy other things.”

And just last week, AMA Queensland State President Dr Dilip Dhupelia warned that pharmacists shouldn’t be allowed to issue repeat prescriptions without a script from a doctor, or issue more medicines over the counter.

“If pharmacists want to diagnose and treat patients, and be allowed to control and manage patient medication, they should devote the many years needed to be a skilled and qualified doctor,” said Dr Dhupelia.

“People will die if life-saving opportunities are missed and it will be in the hands of the Government if they agree to these proposals.”

A Victorian pharmacist and proprietor, Mr Tassone says allowing pharmacists more rights will help the ease the burden on the healthcare system, but insists the doctor’s groups are unwilling to listen.

“Never mind that the greater utilisation of pharmacists will benefit patients; will be within existing limits of pharmacists’ expertise; regulated by a national practice board; is already in place in many comparable countries; will always be conducted collaboratively with doctors and other health professionals; will save money in the health system; and relieve some of the stress on GP waiting rooms and emergency departments.

“Nope – you can set your watch by the predictable and often hysterical outbursts from doctor organisations such as the AMA and the RACGP.”

“My overarching concern has always been the patient journey – ensuring that people get the right care at the right time in the right place by the right practitioner,” says Dr Bartone, who was elected as AMA president in May 2018. Photo credit: AMA
“My overarching concern has always been the patient journey – ensuring that people get the right care at the right time in the right place by the right practitioner,” says Dr Bartone, who was elected as AMA president in May 2018. Photo credit: AMA

Mr Tassone says the Pharmacy Guild’s submission to the Queensland Parliamentary Inquiry into the pharmacy sector has triggered “overblown claims and scaremongering” from doctor’s groups. 

He adds that Dr Dhupelia’s “knee-jerk reaction” reminded him of the predictions of disaster that the AMA and other doctor organisations warned of a few years ago when pharmacists first began training to administer influenza shots.

Back in 2014, then Federal president of the AMA Dr Steve Hambleton raised safety concerns about the Queensland trial of community pharmacists providing flu vaccinations.

“Pharmacies have no proven record that they are safe or appropriate locations for such a private and potentially risky clinical procedure as vaccination,” Dr Hambleton said at the time.

“Spool forward to 2018, and over the past two years hundreds of thousands of Australians have been vaccinated against the flu at community pharmacies – unambiguously safe and convenient for patients and boosting the community’s level of immunity against a killer disease. The scaremongering by doctors failed,” argues Mr Tassone.

“Following a recent announcement that an elected NSW Labor government would expand the vaccines that pharmacists could administer to adults to include MMR and dTpa, we saw Dr Kean Seng Lim, president of AMA (NSW) ignore the experience in other Australian jurisdictions to take to social media calling it a ‘sort of silliness that occurs when healthcare is nonsensically deconstructed by special interest groups’.

“The AMA should hang its head in shame after such a regressive and, thankfully, unsuccessful campaign,” declares Mr Tassone.

Mr Tassone also points to RACGP president Dr Bastian Seidel’s recent comment that patients with complex conditions requiring longer appointments are being refused by doctors because they are not financially viable.

“This was an alarming admission by the RACGP and one that highlights the potential for pharmacists to help … within our existing scope of practice and acting collaboratively with local doctors, community pharmacies can ease the burden on them, giving doctors more time to give care for patients which the RACGP admits they are currently turning away.”

In his National Press Club address on Wednesday, Dr Bartone did not broach the subject of pharmacist scope of practice, but instead argued for increased recognition and funding for GPs, saying that general practice should be “front and centre” of health policy. 

“My overarching concern has always been the patient journey – ensuring that people get the right care at the right time in the right place by the right practitioner,” he said.

“Be it immunisation, preventative health care, age-specific medical checks, chronic disease management, or aged care, the lifelong relationship with your GP underpins continuous and appropriate care.

“I will dedicate my presidency to improving health policy so that we have a system that delivers the best possible care to our patients,” said Dr Bartone, who was elected to the position in May this year.

“The AMA will be a very strong and loud advocate.”

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