Pharmacists to replace GPs under Roxon’s proposed legislation

According to President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Dr. Steve Hambleton, the professional relationship between doctors and pharmacists is on the line.

Dr. Hambleton urged all MPs and Senators to support changes to the National Health Amendment (Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement Initiatives) Bill, which was introduced to Parliament by Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, in late November.

“The Bill would allow pharmacists to dispense prescription medication without a valid prescription and without consulting a patient’s doctor beforehand,”said Hambleton, “Only doctors are adequately trained to make assessments about a patient’s clinical condition and the need for medical treatment.

It’s obvious that Hambleton’s concern may be driven by the idea that if a law relating to ‘continued dispensing’ is passed there may be a slight malfunction in the way the doctor-pharmacist professional relationship works. Said Hambleton, “Our professions work together to improve the medication management of patients and their clinical outcomes. But continued dispensing represents a breakdown in this collaborative team-based approach to patient care.”

Mr Hambleton is not prepared to back down, “There is no justification for the continued dispensing provisions of this Bill to be passed…The AMA will continue to lobby to have the Bill changed.”

Of a slightly different opinion to Hambleton is President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, Grant Kardachi, who is in favour of the Bill as he understands it to be a necessary move towards caring for patients after and beyond consultation with their GPs. “Pharmacists will not be able to diagnose a patient, it is not replacing a doctor, just continuing the same medication,” he said, “People won’t be able to come back every month. It will only help out if there’s a lost script or if someone can’t get to the GP.” Is it then, a matter of setting up pharmacists with a right of passage to behave in the guise of an after hours GP?

In tune with Kardachi’s view is head of Doctors Action, Adrian Sheen who believes, “Anything that takes care away from the family doctor is inherently bad.” “I don’t support any method that cuts out the family doctor…it won’t be long before blood pressure medications and antibiotics are prescribed by the pharmacist’s assistant.” Perhaps this is where we should be asking: will the proposed Bill glorify careers in pharmacy and in turn jeopardise students’ understanding of what the job actually entitles one to?

Despite the apparent quarrel, Minister Roxon’s spokesperson put to bed any idea that the new Bill would give pharmacists the legal right to diagnose clinical conditions of clients and prescribe medication.  “This change is about helping everyday Australians get access to two low-risk groups of medicines – cholesterol-lowering statins and contraceptive pills – with strict protocols in place for pharmacists to follow,” she said.


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