Women across two major states will soon have better access to the oral contraceptive pill after pharmacists were given greater responsibilities.
Both NSW and Queensland have each expanded trials enabling pharmacies to prescribe different medicines and general health information, in a bid to reduce the pressure off GPs.
More than 900 pharmacies across NSW will participate in the 12-month trial which will provide easier access for women using the pill.
NSW Health minister Ryan Park on Wednesday said the trial aims to save women time, especially for regional and rural areas.
“We are embracing new and more innovative ways to ensure people can access the important medicines they need, both safely and in a timely fashion,” Mr Ryan said.
“This initiative is not only making it easier for people to access medicines, it is also alleviating pressure on our GPs and primary care services.
“We are undertaking the necessary evaluations to ensure we get this right.”
Women will be eligible for the resupply of oral contraceptive pills through their local participating pharmacy if they:
Are aged 18 to 35 years old
Have had a past prescription for certain types of oral contraceptive pill issued
Are taking the pill for contraceptive purposes
Under the NSW trial, the only out-of-pocket costs for women seeking a new script will be for the medication itself.
The NSW Government will pay $20 per consultation to participating pharmacists to help cover administration costs.
Meanwhile, participating Queensland pharmacies across the state will also to administer and prescribe the pill, as well as asthma medication, nausea and vomiting medication, nasal congestion and mild skin condition treatments.
Pharmacists will also be able to provide some heart disease risk reduction options and support for people who wish to quit smoking.
The decision to expand the programs in both states came after they ran a urinary tract infection (UTI) pharmacy pilot program which allowed women to access treatment for uncomplicated UTIs through a pharmacy.
“The UTI Pharmacy Pilot and international evidence shows that allowing pharmacists to prescribe for common conditions is a safe and efficient way to improve health outcomes,” Queensland’s Health Minister Shannon Fentiman said.
“Pharmacists are highly trained and regulated healthcare professionals, and this pilot will ensure their expertise is used to its full scope.
“Pharmacy prescribing models of care are used effectively in other countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.
“This will also help address the impacts of workforce shortages and distribution problems, particularly in regional and rural communities.
“This program is designed to supplement, not replace, existing services and give consumers more choice.”
However, the expanded pharmacy program has drawn criticism from three main medical bodies in Queensland.
The Royal Australian College of General Practice, the Australian Medical Association, and AMA Queensland stated they were not consulted about the expansion, despite taking part in good faith discussions about the pilot.
“It seems several state/territory governments are intent on pursuing policies that will fragment care and lead to poorer health outcomes and greater costs to the health system in the long term,” AMA president professor Steve Robson said.
“Real innovation in healthcare delivery should put patients at the centre with GPs and pharmacists working in collaboration to deliver the best possible care for patients.”
But University of Newcastle pharmacist and lead researcher Dr Sarah Dineen-Griffin said the NSW trial, which the university is assisting in monitoring its success, would provide greater options for women.
“The heart of the trial is about improving the health system as a whole and finding new ways to meet the evolving healthcare needs of the community,” Dr Dineen-Griffin said.
“I am excited by today’s launch of the trial’s second phase, as early evidence from the first phase of the trial suggests we are seeing a very real benefit to patients through increasing the avenues available for treatment.”