Date: 13 April 2021
The role of community pharmacists and their staff has again been highlighted in Federal Parliament during the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport hearing into the approval processes for new drugs and novel medical technologies in Australia.
MP Emma McBride told the hearing: “…I would like to thank all the pharmacists and pharmacy assistants you represent, who have helped us so much through the global pandemic.
“Often, pharmacies were still open when all other health services weren't available, and I know it's taken a toll on people, so please pass that on to the members that you represent.
“Also, I bumped into Trent [Twomey] last night, so congratulations to your incoming National Council of the Pharmacy Guild. We're looking forward to hearing from them and working with them.”
In response to a question from Ms McBride about the National Immunisation Program, the Pharmacy Guild’s National Manager, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Operations and Strategy, Chris Flood, said pharmacists now can vaccinate in every State and Territory.
“The immunisation program is an interesting arrangement because, while the Commonwealth funds the cost of the vaccine, it's delivered by the States,” he said.
“We only have a number of States which recognise that pharmacists can vaccinate as part of the program; from memory, it's only three States. It means that, in the States that do not allow that, while a patient who may be eligible for the NIP can present to the pharmacy, pharmacists can basically say, 'You can get a vaccine, but you have to attend a practice or a clinic that is authorised to give the immunisation program vaccines,' or they have to pay the private fee.
“We see that with the flu vaccine, where eligible people will present to the pharmacy and are interested in having it at the pharmacy because it's convenient — sometimes with very little waiting, and not a lot of sick people there.“
They have to pay the private fee. It causes some problem for older patients, because the vaccine for people over 65 is only on the National Immunisation Program. It means that if a person presents to a pharmacy and they want to get the vaccine at the pharmacy, they only have the option to get the other flu vaccine, which is still able to be administered to an older person but is not the preferred vaccine.
“We would like to see the immunisation program standardised so that pharmacists can administer NIP vaccines in every State and Territory. We'd also like to see standardisation about which vaccines pharmacists can administer, because, while every State allows flu vaccines, it is variable. We have some States permitting pertussis, some permitting measles, some permitting meningococcal; it's quite a range.
“We see that pharmacists have a very valuable role in increasing the vaccine uptake in Australia. We have seen this overseas, where pharmacies are a very common site for getting vaccines administered.”
Addressing the hearing, the Guild’s Group Executive, Health Economics, Philip Chindamo said medicines were an essential item in the lives of many Australians.
“They are necessary to maintain their health and, in some cases, keep them alive. Community pharmacies are critical in providing access to medicines and supporting patients in their optimal use,” he said.“
Australia's world-class Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme provides all Australians with access to subsidised essential medicines for their health needs, including through specialised PBS programs, such as for chemotherapy, highly specialised drugs, IVF and growth hormones.
“The Guild itself is involved in negotiating remuneration and supply arrangements for community pharmacies to dispense PBS medicines. These negotiations focus mostly on medicines listed in the general schedule of the PBS. As medicine technology and the PBS evolve, and as more specialised medicines are listed on the PBS for very targeted patient groups, we believe that section 100 arrangements should be reviewed with regard to listing, remuneration and distribution.
“There is also the Life Saving Drugs Program, which is not part of the PBS, in which a patient may request for the medicine to be supplied through their preferred community pharmacy.
“Under this program, while the medicine is provided at no charge to either the patient or the pharmacy, there is no remuneration provided to the pharmacy.
“Yet the pharmacy still has to dispense the prescription in line with State requirements and carries the business cost for holding and handling the life-saving medicine.
“Hence, while this inquiry is looking into the approval process to list newly emerging medicines and health technologies, consideration also needs to be given to the whole medicine supply chain, including community pharmacies' responsibility for dispensing medicines and supporting the patient with its optimal use.”
The Hansard transcript of the hearing is available here.
Contact: The Guild