Premier Chris Minns expands pharmacy trial as 6000 women bypass GPs for over-the-counter consults
The popularity of pharmacy over-the-counter consults for medications such as re-supplies of the pill has seen the trial expanded to include a range of skin conditions.
Pharmacists have been given Minns government approval to hand out medications for conditions that usually require a prescription such as shingles and impetigo – also known as “school sores” under a significant expansion of the trial.
The move comes as new figures reveal more than 6000 women have accessed treatment from a pharmacist for conditions that would usually require a GP visit since the trial began, including for urinary tract infections or resupply of the pill.
The number of participating pharmacists has also surged from 100 when the trial began to 900 in September and again to more than 1100, representing 60 per cent of pharmacies across the State.
The Sunday Telegraph revealed last year how the previous State government – responding to patients finding it increasingly difficult to obtain a GP appointment – would follow Queensland in enabling pharmacists to prescribe medications for certain conditions.
In July this year – in the face of criticism from doctors groups such as the NSW AMA – the Minns government declared women aged 18 or over would be able to be prescribed treatment from their pharmacist for uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs) without a GP appointment.
Eligible women were also able to receive a resupply of their lower-risk oral contraceptive pill from participating pharmacists, so long as they were 18 or over and had been prescribed the pill for contraceptive purposes in the last two years by a doctor (GP) or nurse practitioner.
The latest figures show the scheme has been hugely popular with almost 5800 women accessing treatment from their pharmacist for a UTI and with 269 seeking a resupply of the oral contraceptive pills.
SHINGLES, IMPETIGO JOIN LIST
The Minns government has now approved for shingles – a reactivation of the chickenpox virus – to be added, along with impetigo, which is a highly contagious skin condition often affecting infants and children.
Impetigo disproportionately impacts Indigenous and Pacifika children, with repeat infections leading to an increased risk of Acute Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease.
Shingles tends to affect adults with up to one in three at risk of development the condition in their lifetime.
Pending ethics approval, pharmacists will be able to offer treatments for both conditions from late March next year.
The expansion will also include additional topical treatments for dermatitis and mild plaque psoriasis with the skin component of the Newcastle University-led trial to run for one year.
Health Minister Ryan Park said the trial was offering patients who were unable to see a GP an alternate treatment pathway.
“Everyone knows it is sometimes difficult to get in to see our very busy GPs,” he said.
“And people know where to find a pharmacy and this trial offers patients who can’t see their GP another treatment pathway.
“By bolstering the capacity of pharmacies, we can take pressure off other parts of our primary care system, so that those who need them can access them.”
The AMA (NSW), which estimates there will be a shortage of 10,600 GPs by 2031 with the supply of GPs not keeping pace with growing community demand, has been a vocal critic of the trial, declaring that “anything other” than GP-led prescribing and treatment was a “lesser and dangerous” option.
However, the trial has proven so success in other States such as Queensland that it has been expanded with pharmacists now able to prescribe things such as asthma, nausea and some heart disease reduction medication.
Welcoming the expansion, Pharmacy Guild of Australia NSW branch president David Heffernan said NSW patients would benefit even further when the Minns government adopts the “full scope trial” such as under way in Queensland, where pharmacists were able to treat and prescribe medications for 23 health conditions.
“It’s not only saving patients time but money, which is crucial when doctors’ bulk billing rates continue to fall and during a cost-of-living crisis,” he said.