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02 May 2019

The AMA is warning that the Queensland Government has set a very dangerous precedent by allowing pharmacists to dispense the contraceptive pill, as well as antibiotics for urinary tract infections, without a current prescription.

AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, said today that the move undermines the importance of continuity of care and threatens the health of patients.

“No other State or Territory in Australia allows these medicines to be prescribed by pharmacists,” Dr Bartone said.

“Medicines are poisons. They are highly regulated by Australian governments under ‘poisons’ legislation because they are fundamentally dangerous.

“Until now, all State and Territory governments have complied with the recommendations of the independent Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) about whether a doctor or a pharmacist or other health practitioner has the expertise to safely prescribe a specific medicine.

“The TGA has categorised the oral contraceptive pill and antibiotics for urinary tract infections as ‘schedule 4 medicines’, which means they can only be safely prescribed with the advice of a doctor.

“Pharmacists do not have the medical training required to determine the various complex factors involved in ensuring patient safety when it comes to prescribing a schedule 4 medicine. Simply prescribing the medicine, without holistic care and continuity of care, is dangerous.”

The Queensland Health Minister, Steven Miles, announced on 16 April that Queensland Health would launch a State-wide trial allowing pharmacists to provide the contraceptive pill and antibiotics without a prescription.

The announcement followed determined lobbying by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, representing pharmacy business owners.

Dr Bartone said that even if a woman has previously been prescribed an oral contraceptive, it may not continue to be the most appropriate contraceptive.

“There may be other factors relating to a woman’s health that have changed from her last prescription that can impact on which type of oral contraceptive is prescribed, or even whether an oral contraceptive is the most appropriate form of contraceptive. Seeing the doctor provides the opportunity for holistic, preventive patient care,” Dr Bartone said.

“And unfettered prescribing of antibiotics by pharmacists to treat a urinary tract infection, without any clinical diagnosis, flies in the face of responsible antibiotic stewardship.

“With this trial, the Queensland government is encouraging potentially unnecessary use of antibiotics and the increase of antimicrobial resistance in our community. This is a global crisis with the emergence of ‘superbug’ epidemics.

“This is occurring while the Federal Government is trying to address antimicrobial resistance with a new committee working with GPs to reduce antibiotic prescribing.

“All governments should be working together to fight the threat of antibiotic resistance, rather than increase it.”

Dr Bartone said the AMA fully supports pharmacists working collaboratively with doctors to provide health care for patients.

“Pharmacists are expert in medication management and education, and in dispensing low risk, non-prescription medicines,” Dr Bartone said.

“The AMA supports non-medical health practitioners, including pharmacists, prescribing in a medically-led and delegated team environment.

“But  pharmacists working within a retail pharmacy environment should never prescribe.

“Pharmacists deriving an income from medicines they prescribe represents a fundamental conflict of interest.

“Doctors derive no income or any other benefit from prescribing medicines.

“The separation of prescribing and dispensing is critical for patient safety.

“The Queensland model is a fundamental corruption of a safety check that has stood the test of time. There must be a separation between prescribing by a doctor, who prescribes with no financial or other benefit, and the dispensing of that medication by a pharmacist, who is solely responsible for checking the dosage and frequency.

“The Queensland approach means that retail pharmacists, receiving a financial benefit from every prescription, will now have a licence to do both, which potentially puts patients at risk.

“It is  extremely worrying that the Queensland approach will see pharmacists prescribing independently, with no consultation with the patient’s doctor.

“Multiple prescribers caring for a patient, independent of each other, is just bad health care.”

2 May 2019

CONTACT:        John Flannery           02 6270 5477 / 0419 494 761

                            Maria Hawthorne     02 6270 5478 / 0427 209 753


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Published: 02 May 2019