Australia-first program to let pharmacists prescribe medications instead of a GP in rural areas

Australia-first program to let pharmacists prescribe medications instead of a GP in rural areas
  • PublishedSeptember 15, 2023

Tasmanians are older, sicker, poorer and more likely to live in a regional or rural area than Australians in other states. 

They’re also less likely to routinely see a general practitioner (GP), and more likely to go to an emergency department.

In a bid to make it easier for Tasmanians in remote rural areas to get the healthcare they need, the Tasmanian government plans to allow pharmacists to prescribe medications in some circumstances.

It would be a first for Australia.

Under the proposed changes, it’s likely a GP would diagnose a patient and create a treatment plan for them.

The GP would then delegate their prescribing power for that patient to a local pharmacist, who would be able to prescribe medications to the patient based on the treatment plan.

A similar approach will be taken for aged care home residents, with the residents’ GPs delegating their prescribing power to a pharmacist.

Tasmanian Health Minister Guy Barnett said the initiative is focused on the needs of people who struggle to access general practitioners.

“This initiative will make health care more accessible for Tasmanians living in rural and regional areas, reducing patient travel and wait times,” he said.

The government will also allow pharmacists to prescribe antibiotics for women presenting with uncomplicated urinary tract infections.

A pilot program for the prescribing changes will start before the end of the year.

What do health consumers think of the plan?

The move follows a review of what pharmacists are allowed to do in Tasmania.

Health Consumers Tasmania (HCT) was one of the stakeholder groups that contributed to the review.

“We are seeing, for a lot of Tasmanians, getting access to primary care is getting harder and for some communities it’s now almost impossible,” HCT chief executive Bruce Levett said.

“So we see this as a really strong step forward to actually reach that goal.”

Multiple packets of colourful pharmaceutical medicines.
Access to GP appointments, and therefore prescriptions, can be tough in Tasmania.(Pixabay)

He said the Tasmanians his organisation consulted were happy to be prescribed medications by pharmacists.

“Tasmanians are telling us that they want all primary care professions to work together in a cooperative way,” he said.

What do pharmacists think?

Shane Jackson looks at the camera.
Nubeena pharmacist Shane Jackson says the changes are a “great opportunity to improve access to care”.(ABC News: Laura Beavis)

Both the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Pharmaceutical Society of Tasmania have welcomed the change.

Shane Jackson owns a pharmacy at Nubeena on the Tasman Peninsula and is a past president of the Pharmaceutical Society.

“We see that there’s a great opportunity in rural Tasmania to improve access to care,” Mr Jackson said.

“We see that collaborative relationships between local doctors and local pharmacists, and my pharmacy down in Nubeena will be one of those ones who want to put up our hand to improve the care of our local community and to be able to work side by side with doctors improving access to care.”

What do doctors think?

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) said it needed more detail about the pilot program.

The AMA Tasmanian president, GP John Saul, says local GPs and pharmacists already worked closely together.

“At least this will strengthen the arrangement, and collaboration between good quality community pharmacists and local GPs has a lot of merit and a lot of benefits,” Dr Saul said.

A man leans against his desk, with medical equipment in the backgrounbd and foreground.
The AMA’s John Saul is cautious but says communication between pharmacists and GPs will be good for patients.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

“Again we’ve got to look at the detail, but the timely nature of treatments by good communication between pharmacists and GPs at a local level will have some distinct advantages for patients.”

But doctors oppose pharmacists being allowed to change the dose size of prescription medicines and are alarmed about the plan to allow pharmacists to prescribe antibiotics for urinary tract infections.

“There’s a real risk … that we’re not treating urinary tract infections, we’re just treating the symptoms,” Dr Saul said.

“Is it a sexually transmitted disease? Is it an ectopic pregnancy? Is it a kidney infection? Is it a bowel infection?

“We don’t really know unless we have a proper examination and a proper analysis of the urine.”

The AMA has expressed similar concerns about trials held in Queensland and Western Australia.

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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