What’s the problem?

Guild leader queries need for ‘finding fault’ pharmacy vax audits, and calls for NIP inclusion for the profession

A state Guild leader has taken issue with health officials seeking an audit of pharmacy vaccinations, despite there being no evidence of complaints against vaccinating pharmacists.

Writing in the most recent issue of the NSW Guild Bulletin, David Heffernan, the state Guild branch president, says “despite the outright success of pharmacist vaccination, NSW Health are seeking to perform audits across NSW.”

“As far as we are aware there have been no complaints on vaccinating pharmacists brought to the pharmacy board despite over a million vaccinations taking place in NSW pharmacies.”

The Guild had joined with the NSW PSA to put their concerns to NSW Health over its auditing tool, “which appears less about quality assurance and improvement, and more about finding fault,” he said.

Mr Heffernan emphasised that the Guild was “not opposed to quality assurance audits”, which its members were already used to through the QCPP process.

“However, we are fundamentally opposed to any audits that are both punitive in their approach and do not measure against the published vaccination standards.

“Consultation with industry bodies such as the Guild and the PSA in developing any audit tool would result in a fairer and more effective process,” he said.

Mr Heffernan also called for pharmacy “across the whole country” to be included in the National Immunisation Program (NIP).

“Pharmacist-delivered NIP vaccination in Victoria and ACT is a proven success,” he said. “By utilising the already existing wholesaler framework and the stock management skills and accessibility of community pharmacy, our industry can provide an efficient service delivery which will have financial offsets through reduced hospital admissions by delivering herd immunity.”

The popularity of vaccination in pharmacy appears to have led to a backlog, according to a Seven News report which said the federal government had told the Pharmacy Guild it is “working to update the immunisation register as quickly as possible”.

Speaking on the Seven News report, Trent Twomey, president of the Guild Queensland branch said, “every pharmacy in Australia has provided their immunisation data to Services Australia.”

“Services Australia are sitting on a backlog of data…” he added.

The report also contained further criticism of pharmacist vaccination from GPs with Dr Bruce Willett of the Royal Australia College of General Practitioners saying there was “certainly an increased trend to see vaccination being done in what’s probably a less appropriate environment, in a retail setting.”

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  1. Debbie Rigby

    Referring to ourselves as an “industry” rather than health professionals just adds fuel to the fire of naysayers who criticise “vaccination being done in what’s probably a less appropriate environment, in a retail setting.”

    Community pharmacists are health professionals in a retail environment not retailers in a health environment

    • Paul Sapardanis

      And your last paragraph highlights the problem we have. Some of us agree with your last statement and some of us do not. When professional services are used as marketing to get people in store then we have a problem with our image. The question is what does the public think we are?

      • Jarrod McMaugh

        The public perception of us is important, but is often ill informed.

        The answer lies between what you and debbie have said, but its far close to wgat debbie has said

        • michael ortiz

          Hello Debbie and Jarrod, This is a challenge for most health professionals who don’t work in the Public System. They all work in a business environment, however Pharmacy has a significant retail component with a history selling some products that lack an evidence base. Some pharmacists have difficulty reconciling the dichotomy between being professional and commercial. The health market is not homogeneous and customers have different needs and most customer will use multiple pharmacies to meet those needs. Community pharmacies have evolved based on customer needs (eg., forward dispensing , compounding, weight loss pharmacies. while others have focussed on discounting OTCs or selling nutritional products.)

          The profession should be proud of the great job they do (eg. Bushfires and COVID-19 response). One needs only to look at the public system to remind them of the value Pharmacies provide to the community. I am not aware of a successful nationalised community pharmacy operation.

          All health professions have a soft underbelly, like over-servicing with GPs, large out of pocket charges by specialists, high costs of dentists and vets. The Pharmacy professional associations need to remind the AMA , the RACGP and the Departments of Health of the value for money that Pharmacies contribute to the community. The alternative is to open hospital pharmacies to the public 24/7 .

      • Debbie Rigby

        What is your perception or understanding on what the public thinks we are?

        • Paul Sapardanis

          I think its split. You can’t go into a big box discount store and not think they are retailers in a health environment surely.

  2. Debbie Rigby

    The Conversation story written by someone outside the profession supports my comment – great to read others acknowledge the depth of our training and experience as a health professional.


  3. Pete

    If GP’s and pharmacists are all providing the same NIP service, why aren’t pharmacists paid to do so where GP’s are? Fundamentally, people will do what you pay them to do. Ensure all professionals providing the service are paid ans MBS sevice fee and make it contingent (for all) on data going to AIR. I just solved your problem.

  4. michael ortiz

    There are two issues that need to be considered: 1. Vaccination by accredited community pharmacists, 2. Reporting of vaccinations to AIR.
    Firstly, vaccination regulations applicable to pharmacists differ between States. These regulations need to be harmonised. What is the Guild leadership doing to resolve this issue, especially in NSW which lags behind the rest of the country? Where vaccination rates in Australia are not at target, Community Pharmacies can contribute, however they will need better access to NIP vaccinations and a MBS code to bulk bill patients.
    This brings us to the issue of reporting vaccinations to the AIR. It is important that we have an accurate vaccination register in Australia. The AMA needs to stop playing games complaining about pharmacists and take a closer look in their own backyard. The vaccination numbers don’t add up if you count the number of vaccines supplied under the NIP and compare this with the number of vaccinations reported to AIR. Given the NIP is funded by the taxpayer, a random audit of doctors, nurses, LGA clinics and pharmacists should be conducted to better understand AIR reporting rates.
    Has the AMA highlighted possible exaggerations by some Pharmacy banner groups in the number of vaccinations delivered by pharmacists or has the AMA confused the number of vaccinations reported to AIR in 2019 with the number of doses of flu vaccine supplied in 2020? If reporting rates are too low, then NIP program participation could be made contingent on reporting vaccination to AIR.

  5. daryll knowles

    It surprises me that the Guild and PSA act like this is unusual behavior.
    “They” always act in this punitive, confrontational manner as anyone who ever had the pleasure of a random audit or fishing trip from them would testify. Regardless of whether you have done something wrong you are supposed to feel bullied and intimidated its just par for the course. Its part of the process. Pharmacists should maintain their high level of service to patients despite the constant attacks from naysayers and others who don’t necessarily have best public interest in mind. Pharmacists should know they are not the only ones who receive this treatment its endemic in the system.

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