‘I feel sorry for them’: Radical Medicare overhaul ignites war of words between general practitioners and pharmacists
A war of words has erupted between GPs and pharmacists over a potential change to prescription powers as part of a proposed Medicare overhaul.
Health Minister Mark Butler said Medicare was in the “worst shape it’s been in its 40-year history” but particularly general practice which is in a “truly parlous state”.
Liberating the increasingly congested healthcare system is a key goal for Mr Butler this year, through enhancing the ability of nurses, paramedics and pharmacists to deliver outcomes for patients.
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This would mean trained pharmacists would be able to prescribe medications for a range of conditions to patients finding it difficult to get an appointment with a GP.
This is not a proposal GPs have taken kindly to.
Dr Nicole Higgins of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners told Sky News Australia on Thursday that allowing pharmacists to prescribe certain medications to “plug a hole” in the ailing GP sector wouldn’t work.
“This is actually a business grab as opposed to a healthcare model,” she said.
“If the pharmacy guild was really serious about improving access, then we’d make bigger packs of medications for patients and increase the length of supply.”
She suggested rather than giving pharmacists more power to prescribe, government should look to measures used overseas – such as obtaining prescriptions from supermarkets or vending machines.
“Or other options other than pharmacy prescribing,” she noted.
Expanding the prescription power of pharmacists is currently being trialled in a pilot program in Queensland and is set to commence in New South Wales shortly.
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews also made a similar pledge as part of his re-election platform last year, and the South Australian parliament has set up a committee to explore how pharmacists could provide medication for some urinary tract infections.
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s Trent Twomey said these programs go toward repairing a healthcare system with a “broken model”.
He dismissed concerns from the RACGP as a “cheap shot” based on a fear of a “loss of control”.
Speaking to Sky News Australia on Thursday, he hit back at criticism from the GP association and the Australian Medical Association.
“I think it’s sad. I feel sorry for them,” he said.
“They are under pressure; they don’t know the solution to their problem and they’re thinking it’s some sort of attack on them.
“It’s simply not. It’s shifting the power from a practitioner to a patient but making sure it’s the same safety clinical guidelines that they would receive in any other healthcare setting.”
Mr Twomey highlighted the five years of university study required for pharmacists to practice in Australia, as well as the regulatory Pharmacy Board of Australia.
Pharmacists would also have to complete an extra 12 months of study with university and on the job training in order to be authorised to prescribe medication.