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New South Wales pharmacies sign up to prescribe UTI medications and resupply the pill

Pharmacist serving customer in expanded scope of practice

More than 1,000 pharmacies across New South Wales have signed up to a trial that will allow them to administer some prescriptions, in a bid to alleviate pressure on the state’s strained health system.

Key points:

  • From May, pharmacists taking part in the trial will be able to dispense urinary tract infection medication and resupply the contraceptive pill
  • The trial will extend to the contraceptive pill from July 
  • A New South Wales medical body says the trial will provide evidence of whether the change works 

The initiative will allow pharmacists, after completing additional training, to prescribe medication for urinary tract infections (UTI) to women under the age of 65 from next month.

From July, the trial will also allow women aged 18 to 35 to receive a resupply of the contraceptive pill prescribed by a GP or nurse practitioner in the past two years, even if the script has expired.

While the pilot was announced by the Perrottet government in November last year, it has received the backing of the newly elected Labor government, with Premier Chris Minns labelling it as “innovative”.

“These are primary healthcare interventions that will take pressure off our emergency departments,” Mr Minns said.

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Despite support from both sides of the political aisle, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has repeatedly rejected allowing pharmacists to prescribe medications.

Doctors are concerned the move lacks respect for general practice “and the years of training, experience and knowledge required to properly diagnose and treat a medical condition”.

However, the president of the NSW AMA branch, Michael Bonning, supports the “clinical trial” because it will provide the evidence necessary to assess how the change will “affect the whole healthcare system”.

“We may be in a position to comment on it in the future,” Dr Bonning said, hinting that the NSW AMA might eventually oppose the plan.

“We don’t want more fragmentation of care, hence why we need to see a trial that considers all of the aspects of good patient care, not solely patient convenience.”

The Queensland government trialled a similar plan for UTI medications in 2020 and permanently extended the program in 2022.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) “slammed” the extension, labelling it as a “recipe for disaster”.

However, Pharmacy Guild of Australia NSW Branch vice-president Catherine Bronger said this argument was evidence “doctors are out of touch with what we do in a pharmacy”.

Ms Bronger sits on the steering committee of the New South Wales trial, alongside representatives from NSW Health, the RACGP, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, academics and practising GPs.

As the owner of several pharmacies — including one that’s open 24-7 — Ms Bronger says patients regularly come in with rashes or thrush and are seeking a diagnosis.

“Pharmacists are only going to diagnose in their scope of practice,” she said, noting pharmacists will continue to regularly refer patients to doctors.

“It will bring together more collaboration between doctors and pharmacists.

“We all just want a better healthcare system.”

The pilot for UTI medication will begin next month before it is expanded to include the resupply of oral contraception in July.

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