A representative of the Country Women’s Association has called for funding for locums to retain access to pharmacy services
The CWA and pharmacy stakeholders told a virtual hearing of the Inquiry into Health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote NSW of barriers to health care access in these areas.
Adair Garemyn, policy manager of the CWA NSW, told the inquiry that when it surveyed its members for the purposes of the inquiry, it was “flooded with examples and stories about people’s experiences in regional health”.
The CWA “overwhelmingly” heard about a lack of access, and that while just over 52% of members believed the quality of care was as good as in metropolitan areas, there were not enough health professionals, staff, infrastructure or equipment.
“What this says to us is that the health professionals that are out there are doing an excellent job with very little resources and very little support,” she said.
“We are calling for a significant increase in funding for recruiting and retaining more permanent health professionals and staff, upgrading of hospitals and health services, reversing the decline in maternity services and birthing units from within hospitals, a significant increase in psychological services and many more.”
Linda McLean, Branch Agriculture & Environment Officer, highlighted the issue of pharmacist access specifically, as well as access to other health professionals, particularly those providing mental health care services.
She said her branch at Hillston, serving a population of around 1400 people, was “concerned with women’s health issues, mental health services, locum doctor and locum pharmacist availability, and the use of telehealth as the only solution for rural and remote services”.
“A system needs to be put in place that is unique to rural and remote New South Wales that allows for doctors and pharmacists to be relieved from their duties for much-needed downtime and/or professional development without leaving our towns vulnerable for lengthy periods of time,” she said.
“Telehealth is not the only solution for rural and remote medical services.
“I am sure if the city folk had to rely on telehealth for a majority of their health outcomes, they too would be reluctant to take up the service. Imagine if you had to discuss your personal health issues in a forum like what we have today. I am sure you would be hesitant to divulge what may be required.
“It can be difficult to build trust and rapport within these forums without a personal face-to-face connection first.
“Basically, CWA Hillston branch would like to see equitable access to services for all living in rural New South Wales in relation to the health outcomes.”
When asked by the Hon Natasha Maclaren-Jones how members felt about funding for pharmacists, Ms McLean said that, “They just wish that when a pharmacist is away for professional development or for leave of whatever time, that they have not so much access but there is funding available for that pharmacist to put another pharmacist on”.
“I believe that at the moment they have to do it privately,” she said.
“Yes, it is a private business and they should pay for their private costs, but there needs to be some sort of assistance there so that, if they do need to take the time, the town is not left for a lengthy period of time without a pharmacist or a doctor for that case.”
Last month the inquiry had heard, in a separate virtual hearing, from representatives of stakeholder groups including the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia and Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.
Kristin Michaels, SHPA chief executive, said that “virtually all” hospitals in NSW are not sufficiently staffed, and that, “In other States, hospital pharmacists provide medicines at discharge and provide thorough medication counselling when patients are taking new and different medicines. Our New South Wales members report that a large portion of their patients do not get any pharmacist counselling when being discharged on their new medicines and are often handed a bag of medicines by a nurse on their way out of the hospital”.
These issues were exacerbated in rural and regional settings, Ms Michaels said.
Ms Michaels agreed with the Hon Walt Secord that such discharge practices could and did result in “higher adverse situations”.
Hearings are being held around the state, with the next set for Walgett in November.