2021-22 Federal Budget: Guild and PSA agree pharmacy is key to improve health outcomes in Australia

Improved patient access to healthcare through community pharmacies needs to be a health priority in the 2021-22 Federal Budget, according to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA).

In a Budget submission, the Guild highlights access to, and affordability of, opioid dependence treatment as well as minimising medication errors by supporting e-prescriptions in community pharmacy.

National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia George Tambassis says the community pharmacy sector is committed to reducing the health, social and economic costs of substance misuse in Australia.

“As such we recognise the significant public benefits of the treatment programs and their capacity to assist individuals to be productive members of society,” he says.

“Given the magnitude of the issue we believe that a national coordinated approach to the management and treatment of opioid misuse is required.”

Mr Tambassis says the growing number of people dependent on opioids and the impact it has on individuals, families and the community is a concern.

“There are nearly 150 hospitalisations and 14 emergency department presentations involving opioid harm every day in Australia, and three people die from drug-induced deaths involving opioid use daily.”

“These are alarming statistics and we must act on them without hesitation. Our submission offers a practical and pragmatic approach to helping address this growing problem.”

Mr Tambassis says the success of e-prescriptions and their ability to help reduce medication errors relies on a community pharmacy’s capability to efficiently integrate the dispensing of an e-prescription, with its established paper-based workflow system and this requires investment in both new and upgraded technology.

“Community pharmacies have been required to adapt and invest the most when integrating e-prescriptions into both their clinical and business workflows and as volumes increase, the need for pharmacies to access and utilise appropriate IT infrastructure will only increase.

“In our submission we are calling for support to help pharmacies enact the necessary changes to ensure e-prescribing is able to live up to its expectations as a major tool in reducing medication errors.”

Sharing a similar view, the PSA put forward four strategic measures in its 2021-22 Budget Submission, to enable pharmacists to significantly improve health outcomes for Australians.

Among the PSA’s recommendations is a proposal to revise aged care funding instruments and invest $197.8 million over four years to support residential aged care facilities directly engage pharmacists to reduce preventable harm caused by medicines.

PSA National President Associate Professor Chris Freeman says the recent Royal Commission Aged Care interim report was critical of medicine management in Australia’s aged care sector.

“The interim report highlighted widespread overprescribing, often without clear consent, of drugs which sedate residents, rendering them drowsy and unresponsive to visiting family and removing their ability to interact with people,” he says.

“Inappropriately sedating residents of aged care facilities is not care, it’s an abrogation of responsibility that must be addressed. “We have seen the role of pharmacists embedded within aged care facilities well received by patients, family members, and healthcare professionals and we call on the Government to dedicate 0.5 full-time equivalent pharmacists per 100 aged care residents.”

Based on current residency, this would equate to 910 FTE pharmacists to support Australia’s 181,200 people living in residential aged care, identifying, preventing and managing medicine-related problems, reducing polypharmacy and improving medicines working with residents, family and their prescribers.

PSA recommends the 2021-22 Federal Budget makes provision to:

  • Adopt the MBS Taskforce recommendation to rebate non-medical health professional participation at case conferences.
  • Amend aged care funding instruments to engage pharmacists in Australia’s residential aged care facilities.
  • Establish a digital nationally coordinated pharmacovigilance system for primary care.
  • Fund pharmacists within Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.

Associate Professor Freeman says these recommendations provide an opportunity for the government to take action to reduce medicine-related harm and utilise the skills of pharmacists to improve health outcomes for Australians.

“Pharmacists are approachable, knowledgeable and highly trusted within the community and the Australian public want to see the skills of pharmacists put to full use,” he says.

“Throughout the 2020 bushfire crises and Covid-19 pandemic, pharmacists have continued to provide essential services to patients and the Government needs to work with pharmacists to implement these recommendations to achieve positive health outcomes.

“While Australia rightly continues to focus on and lead the world in our Covid-19 response, it is important that we do not ignore the other health challenges and priorities that Australians face.”

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