Using pharmacist expertise ‘simple sense’

Even without COVID-19, there’s already strain on access to health care, with nearly a quarter of Australians unable to see a GP when they feel they need to

A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found that between November 2014 and November 2015, an estimated one in four (24%) of patients aged 45 and over reported that there was a time when they felt they needed to see a GP but did not go.

Those who needed to use health services the most were the most likely to not see a GP or specialist when they felt they needed to.

In 2016, after adjusting for the effects of other patient characteristics, patients with high health needs were 3.3 times as likely as those with low health needs to report that there was a time when they felt they needed to see a GP but did not go.

Those with high needs were defined as those with at least three long-term health conditions, or those with one or two long-term health conditions who were also limited a lot in their daily activities due to these conditions.

These high-needs patients also had more GP visits – 13.8 per person – than patients with low health needs, at 4.6 per person.

“Half the patients who did not see a GP when they felt they needed to said they could not get an appointment,” the AIHW reported.

Lack of nearby health services is a bigger barrier for people living in remote Australia, it observed, with the proportion of patients who said that a reason they did not see a GP or specialist was that there were no health services nearby rising with increasing remoteness.

Only 3% of those who lived in major cities said there was no GP nearby, rising to 5% of those in inner regional areas, 9% in outer regional areas and 20% in remote and very remote areas.

Anthony Tassone, Victorian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild, told the AJP that pharmacists are highly trained and accessible health experts who already play an essential role in our primary care system – but can still be better utilised.

Responding to the new AIHW data, he said that “There is growing awareness and understanding amongst members of the public of what pharmacists are able to do beyond dispense prescriptions and give advice about medicines including services such as: vaccinations, screening services for some chronic diseases, management of common ailments and absence from work certificates”.

“Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, there were strains on our health system and challenges for some patients to access their GP,” Mr Tassone said.

“Before we cue the shrieks of despair and scaremongering from our elected official colleagues of peak medical groups and the mere suggestion of pharmacists fulfilling their scope of practice, the sad reality is there is enough sickness and chronic disease in our community to keep our health professionals busy.”

Earlier this month, the Pharmacy Guild’s Trent Twomey had told Fairfax media that in the light of the novel coronavirus, governments could not afford “not to utilise the pharmacy workforce,” comments rejected as a “cynical ploy” by the RACGP.

“Now more than ever when there are direct challenges on our health system with COVID-19 we need to best utilise our health infrastructure and workforce resources for the sake of our community and patients,” Mr Tassone told the AJP.

“Community pharmacies are the most accessible and visited primary health destination in Australia and with the public having a high degree of trust and satisfaction with community pharmacists, it makes simple sense to best use the skills and expertise possible in the network.”

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