The skills and expertise of pharmacists must be more fully utilised to provide better health services to the community and to help reduce the growing pressures on the health budget.
Commenting on proposals for a $5 co-payment fee to be applied for all visits to a GP, and possibly also for emergency department visits, the Chief Executive Officer of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, Liesel Wett, said Australia was lagging in making full use of pharmacists' abilities.
"Pharmacists are the most accessible of all health professionals and are trained and equipped to deal with a wide range of minor ailments which currently are often unnecessarily undertaken by doctors," Ms Wett said.
"Pharmacists are able to treat these patients safely and efficiently, and always in the knowledge that when in any doubt the patient must be referred to the GP or other medical specialist. Taking this huge workload off GPs would free them to perform the work which requires their expertise and skill set, and in so doing cut the number of unnecessary visits to doctors' surgeries.
"On top of this, pharmacists are second only to nurses as the most-trusted health professionals, a fact which highlights there would be wide public acceptance and uptake of these services provided by pharmacists."
Ms Wett said the recent Grattan Institute report on New solutions for GP shortages in rural Australia underscored the need for GPs to be better supported by pharmacists and other health professionals.
"The report says, 'The first step is to make much better use of pharmacists' skills. Pharmacists are highly trained, have deep expertise in medicines, and are located in communities throughout Australia. But their role is far more limited in Australia than in many other countries.'
"One area which the Grattan Report identifies is immunisation.
"Pharmacists are allowed to immunise in the US, Canada, Portugal, Ireland and the UK, and there have been successful trials in New Zealand. In Australia there have also been successful local trials and the PSA has issued guidelines for providing immunisation services with a view to promoting best practice and the delivery of high-quality immunisation services in pharmacies and to ensure that no gaps exist in this public health program.
"PSA and the pharmacy profession look forward to working with the Government to identify the many areas in which pharmacists can support their medial colleagues and in doing so produce better health outcomes for the community while also easing the pressure on GPs and on the health budget."