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19 Aug 2019

The AMA has reacted strongly to a Pharmacy Guild policy paper that proposes pharmacists move way beyond their scope of practice to perform some specialised roles of GPs.

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone denounced the proposal and said if the Guild wants pharmacists to undertake the role of doctors then it should encourage pharmacists to first undertake 10 to 15 years of study for a medical degree.

The AMA Federal Council discussed the issue in depth when it met for two days at Canberra in mid-August.

Australian Medicine will be updated online with Federal Council resolutions over the issue and any further announcements from the President.

Some Federal Councillors did note, however, that what the Pharmacy Guild wants is not necessarily what regular pharmacists want.

Immediately following the release of the Pharmacy Guild policy paper Community Pharmacies: Part of the Solution, which calls for pharmacists to be allowed to perform “to their full scope” in the health system by treating common ailments and dispensing medication without doctor consultation, Dr Bartone described it as a stunt – but one that had the potential to place patients in danger.

“Patient care suffers, and health and lives are put at risk, when there is fragmentation of health care and the loss of continuity of quality health care,” Dr Bartone said.

“GPs study and train for more than a decade to provide quality holistic care for individuals and families through all stages of life.

“The Guild claims that a pharmacist’s ‘half a decade training prior to being registered’ is sufficient to practise as a doctor, with all the complexity and specialised skills and knowledge that entails. This is simply not true or possible.”

Dr Bartone said the Pharmacy Guild’s stunt was aimed at taking focus off the Guild’s frantic lobbying of the Government over the next Pharmacy Agreement and the controversial location rules, and the threats being posed by Chemist Warehouse, other pharmacy retail chains, and the big grocery chains.

“I do not think that busy, dedicated community pharmacists – who work daily in a collaborative partnership with local GPs, hospitals, and other health professionals in towns and suburbs across the country – would agree with the Guild’s push for pharmacists to take over the work of doctors,” he said.

“The collaborative relationship between local GPs and pharmacists works well, and should not be eroded.

“GPs know the medical histories of their patients and their families. The enduring long-term and trusted doctor-patient relationship is at the core of safe, high-quality health and medical care in Australia.

“Undermining or diluting this relationship, as the Pharmacy Guild is proposing, is irresponsible and dangerous.

“The Guild should be focused on the interests of its members and individual pharmacists, not looking to make profits from usurping the roles of other health professions.”

The AMA supports pharmacists to supply and dispense S2 and S3 medicines. Pharmacists also have an important role in assisting patients with medication adherence and education – this is their field of expertise.

But Dr Bartone said the dangerous part of the Pharmacy Guild proposal is that pharmacists are not trained to assess a health problem or diagnose medical treatments – including medications.

Recent media reports revealed some pharmacists in Queensland had been over-medicating babies who suffer gastrointestinal problems, including with powerful acid suppressants that can be harmful to babies.

Medical practices all around Australia have provisions for providing urgent care to their patients. Many practices keep ‘book on the day’ appointments for urgent attendances or will fit patients in when required.

Medical practices often provide 24/7 availability for accessing a GP either directly through the practice, or by a deputising service after hours.

The Productivity Commission Report on Government Services highlights that about 75 per cent of patients can get a GP appointment within 24 hours.

JOHN FLANNERY and CHRIS JOHNSON


Published: 19 Aug 2019