Emerging from cloak of COVID, and view has never been brighter

The future is very bright for Western Australian pharmacists. There is positive change coming and this message was heard by the over 400 delegates on the first day of the Pharmacy WA Forum in Perth.

Whilst much of the last two years has been dominated by the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, these should not overshadow the achievements of community pharmacy during this period, nor the opportunities which can be realised across the next couple of years.

In opening the two-day Forum, WA Premier The Hon Mark McGowan commenced by thanking the pharmacists for their contribution to the health and safety of Western Australians across the COVID-19 pandemic. He highlighted that Western Australian community pharmacies had, in the last 18 months, participated in the COVID-19 national roll-out, and the State Government’s Free Jab June/July programme. The Premier commented that it was important that pharmacy had been integral to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and that the sector was crucial to the outcomes which had been achieved in Western Australia. He reaffirmed his commitment to expanding pharmacy services and the primary healthcare contribution of community pharmacy. These are key ongoing areas of discussion between the Western Australian government and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia WA Branch.

Trent Twomey, Mark McGowen, Andrew Ngeow, Matt Tweedie

Pharmacy Guild of Australia WA Branch President Andrew Ngeow noted that “there is no doubt that community pharmacy is an accessible, tertiary-trained workforce with skills and knowledge that is being underutilised. At a time when there is a significant workforce shortage, and problems with the broader health system, to have the scope of practice restricted simply due to the regulatory framework we are practicing in, makes no sense at all.”

As an example of what can be achieved, Dr Ross Tsuyuki, Professor at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine, then provided considerable insight as to how community pharmacy can improve public health as primary care providers. Dr Tsuyuki had a pivotal role in ensuring Canadian pharmacists operate at full scope of pharmacy practice, including injections, prescribing, disease management and laboratory tests, thus ensuring Canadian pharmacies are a true health destination.

Pharmacy Guild of Australia National President Professor Trent Twomey provided the Guild’s vision of a sector which is professionally rewarding. This included an overview of the successful Queensland pilot of treatment of uncomplicated urinary tract infections, and its direct applicability to Western Australia. In the eighteen-month pilot, the largest number of services were provided to women in the 18–29-year age group. The pilot study directly supported these patients through providing timely, accessible, and convenient treatment. In doing so, it also prevented an estimated one thousand unnecessary presentations at hospital emergency departments and released GPs to practice at the top of their scope, allowing them to treat patients with more complex conditions or chronic diseases.

Lead of the 8CPA Negotiating Team, and Victorian Branch President, Anthony Tassone, subsequently outlined the Guild’s plans to make full scope of pharmacy practice a reality. If pharmacy is to be a key provider of government and public health programmes, then ensuring greater remuneration for pharmacy services must be a key inclusion.

“The three interlocking elements of a supportive, enabling government, a clearly defined and agreed plan and appropriate renumeration are all critical,” said Mr Ngeow. “I felt that today we have had these clearly outlined.”

Whilst maintaining its traditional medicines dispensing role, the role of community pharmacy continues to broaden. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the critical question of how this resource and its workforce can be better utilised. Community pharmacies are ideally positioned to take on greater primary health care responsibilities. Each year there are over 200,000 presentations at Western Australian hospital emergency departments, which could be dealt with in a primary care setting.

“Community pharmacy has an extensive track record of safe and cost-efficient service delivery, which can be replicated across a greater range of services,” Mr Ngeow said. “Pharmacy’s success in administering vaccines can and must be replicated to include additional services through pharmacists working at their full scope of practice.”

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