Doctor groups slam prescription changes

(Amanda Chambers/University of Alabama at Birmingham via AP)

Doctors have slammed a move allowing pharmacists to prescribe antibiotics and reissue certain prescriptions under a Victorian Labor election promise, over fears it could increase antibiotic resistance and put patients’ health at risk.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced a $19 million, 12-month pilot project from the middle of 2023 to expand the role of community pharmacists to treat minor health conditions such as urinary tract infections.

Australian Medical Association Vice President Danielle McMullen described it as a slap in the face to GPs, saying antibiotic resistance was one of the biggest health threats facing the world so she did not support any program which increased prescription.

“It does put antimicrobial resistance at risk, it puts women on the pill at risk ,” Dr McMullen told AAP.

She said common conditions like migraines and even smoking can impact the safety of the pill so it was vital women saw a GP for renewed prescriptions every one or two years.

“Prescribing medication is more than just clicking print.

“For every prescription that we write it really is a consideration of that person’s whole health care picture.”

Allowing pharmacists to prescribe medication was a step in the wrong direction, according to Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Adjunct Professor Karen Price.

She said a similar trial in Queensland resulted in a pharmacist giving a patient in their 50s antibiotics for a presumed UTI, however they actually had a 15 centimetre mass in their pelvis.

“Overseas in the United Kingdom the British pharmacists’ own defence union warned of incidents of unsafe practice that have emerged with the rise of independent pharmacist prescribers,” Adjunct Prof Price said.

Under the pilot, the government would pay pharmacists $20 per consultation and patients would pay no more than the current Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme co-payment for any medications required.

“Community pharmacists have a wealth of knowledge and experience. It just makes sense to expand their role,” Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Wednesday.

“It will ensure Victorians can get the timely care they need, while saving families money and taking the pressure off GPs.”

Pharmacy Guild of Australia Victoria branch president Anthony Tassone endorsed the pilot, appearing alongside Mr Andrews.

“Measures like this that enable pharmacists to do more in helping treat uncomplicated urinary tract infections with antibiotics, reissue prescriptions for oral contraceptives, go a long way to helping patients get the care they need,” Mr Tassone said.

Under the Queensland pilot, pharmacists are restricted to prescribing three types of antibiotics for common conditions. 

“It could be quicker hopping on a plane and going to Brisbane to get treatment from a pharmacy in Brisbane for a urinary tract infection rather than being able to get a GP appointment (in Victoria),” Mr Tassone said.

He said patients with UTI symptoms in the pilot are treated under set guidelines, which did not include administering a urine test.

That prompted concern from Dr McMullen, who said doing the test to confirm the diagnosis was considered best practice.

Mr Andrews also announced an incentive program to lure doctors into general practice, which the AMA and RACGP welcomed.

If re-elected, his government would spend $32 million offering financial incentives for doctors who enrol in the GP training program, including a $30,000 top-up payment for first-year trainees and $10,000 per trainee on the costs of their exams in their first year.

Liberal Leader Matthew Guy said fixing Victoria’s health system was the biggest issue confronting the state.

“When 33 Victorians die waiting for an ambulance you know we have a problem,” he said during Tuesday’s leaders debate.


- Advertisement -