Pharmacists opposed in campaign to extend scope of practice during crisis

Pharmacists escalating their campaign to take on more tasks performed by GPs, including provision of common medicines without a prescription during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, have been opposed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian Medical Association.

A report on the situation by Dana McCauley is featured in The Sydney Morning Herald today.

“The last thing you want to do in a pandemic is create a cluster where sick people congregate with people with the virus,” Pharmacy Guild Vice President Trent Twomey told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“Frankly, state and federal governments can’t afford not to utilise the pharmacy workforce.”

The guild wants the rules changed so pharmacists can dispense medicines like the contraceptive pill, preventative asthma inhalers, blood pressure tablets and antibiotics for urinary tract infections without the need for a GP visit.

Mr Twomey based his argument on the fact that pharmacists are the second largest health workforce in the country behind nursing, which gives patients “unparalleled accessibility”.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has issued a media release opposing the lifting of restrictions on pharmacists as it believes it’s a grab for power and profit at the expense of patient safety.

“Increased pharmacy sector powers could cause tremendous harm,” its president Dr Harry Nespolon commented.

“To take just one example, allowing pharmacists to prescribe antibiotics for urinary tract infections is a recipe for disaster because one of the greatest challenges our healthcare system faces is antimicrobial resistance caused by the misuse and over-use of antibiotics.”

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) too opposes the lifting of restrictions on pharmacists.

Its president Tony Bartone also believes the guild’s members are looking for financial gain and extending scope of business.

A guild spokesperson commented to Retail Pharmacy: “It just makes sense as GPs and hospital emergency departments come under increasing pressure, including through the emergence of COVID-19, that pharmacists should be authorised to practise to their full scope. This is not an intrusion into doctor territory, but a legitimate recognition that pharmacists in comparable countries are able to do more within their existing training, and Australian patients should benefit from the expertise of pharmacists to take pressure off a stressed health system.”

Victorian health minister Jenny Mikakos said pharmacists “play a vital role in our health system and their involvement in our response to COVID-19 is being considered as part of our broader contingency planning”.

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