Pharmacists' prescribing trial puts patient safety at risk, say GPs

Granting pharmacists the power to prescribe medication is a poor idea and being driven by political donations, Australia’s peak body for general practitioners warns.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) says a decision to expand a trial that will give pharmacists the authority to prescribe medication could jeopardise patient safety.

Commenting on a Queensland government trial that will give pharmacists the power to prescribe medication for a range of issues, the RACGP says the move would undermine the state’s healthcare system and produce worse outcomes for patients.

The trial allows pharmacists to diagnose and prescribe across 23 medical conditions, including hypertension, type 2 diabetes and middle ear infections. It is set to begin in June and will run for 18 months.

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The trial was granted in what some believed were controversial circumstances after the Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA) donated around $300,000 to the major political parties in the 2020-21 financial year.

“The trial would allow pharmacists to diagnose and treat patients when they don’t have the necessary training or experience. They are completely unqualified to do this, it’s playing with fire and putting patients at serious risk,” says RACGP Queensland chair Dr Bruce Willett.

“A specialist GP undertakes a minimum of 10 years training, including medical school as well as vocational training, to diagnose and recommend treatment to patients unsupervised.

“But this trial would see pharmacists diagnosing, treating and prescribing to patients for complex medical conditions unsupervised, after just a three-week course.”

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The RACGP also fears that by making the prescriber and seller of medication the same entity, there is a risk of medicines being over-prescribed for commercial reasons.

“If the pharmacist is both initiating the prescription and then dispensing it, there really is a significant financial incentive to provide a script where it may not necessarily be appropriate.”

Initially, the RACGP had a representative participating in the trial, but this has since been withdrawn.

It’s not just the RACGP that has concerns. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) have also withdrawn their representatives from the trial.

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“If this goes ahead, we will see pharmacists becoming de facto GPs, encouraged to diagnose and treat a range of potentially serious health conditions – including prescribing and dispensing a range of medicines despite a lack of training,” says AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid.

“Pharmacists are not doctors. They are experts in medication and a key part of community healthcare but lack the necessary training and experience that makes general practice such a critical part of our health system.

“When a patient visits their GP, all their health needs are taken into consideration in arriving at a diagnosis and treatment plan.”

What’s your view on pharmacists prescribing some medications? Is this a ‘turf war’ of sorts? Why not have your say in the comments section below?

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Written by Brad Lockyer