NSW residents will soon be able to get vaccinations and some treatments prescribed at their local chemist, in a move doctors’ groups have slammed as “madness”.
It mirrors a similar trial underway in Queensland, and practices in other countries such as the UK and Canada.
Premier Dominic Perrottet says it will free up other healthcare workers and give people better access to care.
“There is pressure on the health system right across the board and we want to make sure people, whether they’re in metropolitan Sydney or regional NSW, have access to the best health care,” he said on Sunday.
From Monday, pharmacists will be authorised to administer a wider range of vaccinations, including jabs for travel.
A 12-month trial has been announced evaluating pharmacists prescribing medications, including antibiotics for urinary tract infections, treatments for skin conditions and infections, and birth control.
Pharmacists will have to complete additional training first.
Regional Health Minister Bronnie Taylor says it will be a “game-changer” in rural areas.
“Our pharmacists are an integral part of our communities, and of who we are in country communities.”
Highly skilled and highly trained, pharmacists are one of the most under-utilised professions in the health system, Ms Taylor said.
Pharmaceutical Society of Australia president Chelsea Felkai said the changes will give people better access.
“This is an important vote of confidence in pharmacists across NSW, in our skills and expertise as part of the primary healthcare team,” she said.
However, the move was criticised by doctors groups, who called the change a “recipe for disaster” and a danger to patient safeguards.
President of the NSW Australian Medical Association Michael Bonning said the decision was rogue health policy that would erode patient safeguards and undermine the rigorous standards upheld by doctors.
“The state government’s approach misses the fundamental separation of prescriber and dispenser,” Dr Bonning said.
“That separation provides independence, safety, and best care for the patient.”
While the AMA supported mass vaccinations through pharmacies, expanding the role of pharmacists to treat UTIs, shingles, gastroenteritis, nausea, psoriasis and prescribing oral contraceptives was not acceptable, he said.
Dr Bonning questioned whether pharmacists could ever provide the same standards of investigation and documentation as GPs.
“GPs undergo years of training to provide the appropriate diagnosis and treatment for the conditions listed as part of this health policy reform.”
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners called the move “madness” and “a recipe for disaster”.
“This isn’t a solution for patients, this is a solution for the pharmacy lobby,” RACGP president Karen Price said.
Pharmacists should be working as part of a team in a hospital or medical practice setting, rather than unsupervised retail spaces, she said.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the trial will reduce pressure on hospital emergency rooms, and see general practitioners have more appointments on offer for people with more serious ailments.
“It’s a cascading benefit,” he said.
“While some in the primary care sector have firm views on the role of pharmacists, their positive contribution to the management of the pandemic has demonstrated that they are able to deliver more,” Mr Hazzard said.
Already pharmacists can administer flu and COVID-19 vaccines, but will soon be able to jab arms for protection against hepatitis A and B, polio, typhoid, shingles and Japanese encephalitis.
The latter was detected for the first time in NSW earlier this year.
A Griffith man in his 70s died from the virus in a Sydney hospital in February.