11 February 2022

RACGP: Queensland pharmacy prescribing trial risks patient safety

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has warned that Queensland’s proposed pilot to give pharmacists power to diagnose and treat patients is a serious risk to patient safety.

The RACGP yesterday withdrew its representative from the pilot’s advisory committee in protest.

RACGP Queensland Chair Dr Bruce Willett said the College has serious concerns about patient safety in the trial.

“The RACGP was invited to put forward a representative for the committee, along with Australia’s other medical colleges and peak bodies,” said Dr Willett.

“While it’s important to have a seat at the table in order to influence change, we cannot provide representation on an advisory group for this pilot which compromises patient care – this is why we are withdrawing.

“We’ve had concerns about this proposed trial from the very beginning, and we raised them with the committee, Queensland Health and the Department of Health.

“The trial would allow pharmacists to diagnose and treat patients when they don’t have the necessary training or experience – they are completely unqualified to do this, it’s playing with fire and putting patients at serious risk.

“A specialist GP undertakes a minimum of 10-years training, including medical school as well as vocational training to diagnose and recommend treatment to patients unsupervised. But this trial would see pharmacists diagnosing, treating and prescribing to patients for complex medical conditions unsupervised, after just a three-week course.

“The pilot is proposed to take place in North Queensland, where there is a high proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, many whom have complex health needs and multiple chronic conditions. This makes it even worse – substandard care from a pharmacist, instead of a properly qualified doctor, puts their health at significant risk.

“The pilot is in direct opposition to current clinical arrangements across Australia and prescribing arrangements agreed to by national health regulatory bodies. It would require a pharmacist, who doesn’t have the required training or skills, to make complex diagnostic decisions and manage complex chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“It’s clear the trial should be ceased immediately. And this is what The National Council of Primary Care Doctors, which RACGP President Dr Karen Price is Chair of, has recommended.

“Pharmacists are experts in medicine, and a key part of community health care. But let’s be clear here, they are not doctors, and are completely unqualified to diagnose and prescribe to patients.

“There are also serious conflicts of interest involved with pharmacists not only diagnosing conditions, but also selling patients medications based on their diagnosis. 

“The Pharmacy Guild itself has long supported the separation of prescribing and dispensing. But this no longer seems important when the profits of retail pharmacy are at stake.

“The RACGP has deep concerns about moves by the retail pharmacy sector to push through policy changes that put financial gains ahead of patient care and safety. We will fight this every step of the way.”

Media enquiries

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