In recent months, the New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland governments announced plans to expand the scope of care provided by community pharmacists to include limited prescribing for some medications.
Under current primary healthcare processes, medication prescriptions can generally only be issued by specific doctors, such as general practitioners (GPs). This is so that the risks and benefits of the medication can be considered within the full context of each consumer’s health status and needs. However, given demands on the general practitioner system, including falling rates of bulk billing and difficulty accessing GPs in rural and regional areas, the state governments’ plans are examples of ways for consumers to access this health care.
So, for the December 2022 Australia’s Health Panel survey, we asked consumers for their views on community pharmacists issuing medication prescriptions. And we found that consumers are largely in favour of pharmacists being given some prescribing powers within the Australian healthcare system, particularly with “repeat” prescriptions.
Panellists broadly identified two scenarios where they believed pharmacists should issue medication prescriptions. The first was medications within a narrow range of ‘low risk, low variance or long term’ uses, particularly for repeat medications. The medications that fall within this narrow range, and requirements for general reviews or GP checks would vary and should be determined by medical experts. The second acceptable scenario was where pharmacists could be used to fill a gap within the broader health system to ensure medication was affordable and accessible to consumers. This could include after hours or in rural areas where GPs have limited availability. In this scenario, a much broader range of prescribing could be done by pharmacists. This could include ensuring a consumer had no gap in medication and to treat short term or urgent issues. However, panellists thought that, in this scenario, consumers should only be able to get a small number of these prescriptions before having to have a consultation with a GP or other provider.
In both scenarios, panellists believed that more communication between pharmacists and other providers were needed, in particular through more integrated electronic records, to ensure that consumers’ overall healthcare could be managed safely with the increased prescription options. There were also some specific circumstances where pharmacists should not be able to issue prescriptions at all, such as for antibiotics and addictive pain medications.
This survey focused on pharmacists working in a retail or community setting as the State Government trials were done in that setting. Depending on the direction of future policy discussions on this issue, further research should be done to see if people’s views changed if the pharmacists were co-located in a general practice or a residential aged care facility.
The results of this research will inform our advocacy and partnerships around ensuring all health professional are able to work up to the top of their scope of practice to ensure more effective and efficient use of valuable workforce resources. The Consumers Health Forum of Australia would like to thank all panellists for giving up their time to participate in this survey. Any questions about this survey and its findings can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.