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Pharmacists intensify health care push

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A vaccination training course for pharmacists has achieved national accreditation as the industry’s peak body has intensified its push for chemists to provide a range of GP-type services.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority has given formal accreditation to a Pharmaceutical Society of Australia course on the delivery and administration of immunisations, which is included in the Graduate Diploma of Applied Pharmacy Practice.

The course was used in the controversial Queensland pilot program under which pharmacists were given permission to provide vaccinations, such as for the flu.

The development came as the PSA intensified its push for an expanded role for pharmacists in primary care.

The Society wants the next five-year Community Pharmacy Agreement to incorporate a broader scope of practice for pharmacists, including providing vaccinations, conducting health checks and treating minor ailments.

 Negotiations on the next Agreement, which is expected to cost taxpayers about $15 billion, are due to begin soon, and the PSA is keen to secure an expanded role for pharmacists because reforms to pharmaceutical pricing and other developments had dented earnings.

Already, major pharmacy chains Chemmart, Amcal and Guardian are offering skin cancer checks, and some conducts tests for coeliac disease.

But the Society is facing stiff resistance from the AMA, which has warned that community pharmacies were a totally inappropriate setting in which to try and deliver quality health care, and allowing pharmacists to provide GP-style services would fragment care and could put lives at risk.

AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler said that it was unacceptable to try and conduct health checks between shelves stacked with “toilet paper and toothpaste”, and said pharmacists did not have the training to accurately diagnose and treat health problems.

AMA NSW President Dr Saxon Smith, a dermatologist, said it was “irresponsible and inappropriate” for pharmacies to offer in-store skin cancer checks.

Nonetheless, the Government has left open the possibility that it might agree to a wider scope of practise for pharmacists.

Health Minister Peter Dutton has flagged that he was open to suggestions about arrangements that would improve access to care.

Adrian Rollins