Australians could skip the GP and go straight to the pharmacy to treat mild conditions if large-scale Medicare and health reforms are achieved.
On Friday, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet will petition the national cabinet for changes which would give pharmacies greater scope to prescribe medications like antibiotics for urinary tract infections, skin ailments, hormonal contraception and administer vaccines.
The program has been trialled in NSW and Queensland, and also exists in Canada and the UK.
Mr Perrottet said these reforms would make life “easier” for patients.
“That in essence takes pressure off GPs,” Mr Perrottet told reporters on Wednesday.
“We’ve already seen that in Queensland, but I do think this is something should be rolled out across the country.
“It’s not something that is new, but it’s something that makes sense.”
Mr Perrottet will also be joining forces with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to extend a pandemic measure which saw a 50:50 state and federal health funding deal. As of January 1, 2023 it has returned to a 55 to 45 funding split.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr Perrottet stressed the need for increased Commonwealth health funding, which would provide increased accessibility to GPs, in particular bulk-billings GPs, and divert people with non-critical conditions away from emergency rooms.
Mr Perrottet said 50 per cent of emergency room patients in NSW present with “triage four or triage five conditions,” which are semi-urgent or non-urgent conditions which could be treated by a GP or at an urgent care centre.
“When it comes to GPs, we need better integration between the primary care network and the public health system,” he said.
“What we’re seeing right across the country is people in communities, from metropolitan cities to regional New South Wales who can’t access a GP, where and when they need them.”
Mr Andrews also backed the need for change.
“We need to make Medicare work and we’ve got to get those bulk billing rates up. We’ve got to ensure that emergency departments are only for emergencies,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Commenting on the need for Medicare reform, the NSW opposition spokesman for health, Ryan Park accused the state government of “passing the buck to Canberra”.
“This is a government that has presided over a health crisis and now wants to point the finger to a new government in Canberra,” he said.
“The nurses midwives and allied health care workers know the pressure they’re under because of understaffed and under resourced hospitals. We need a government with a plan to fix our hospitals and health system.”
On Tuesday, Commonwealth Health Minister Mark Butler acknowledged that Medicare was in the “worst shape it’s been in its 40-year history,” he leaned towards structural change, over a funding splash.
“Simply putting more money into the existing structures is not going to deliver the type of care modern Australia needs,” Mr Butler told ABC’s RN.
“We don’t just need to add more money to the existing systems, we need to change the existing system.”
Calls to give pharmacists increased responsibilities have been criticised by the Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP), which warned the NSW government “in the strongest possible terms” to reconsider the trial.
“Stop this madness before it’s too late, this is a recipe for disaster plain and simple,” RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price said at the time.
The Australian Medical Association also called the move a “rogue health policy,” however they supported pharmacists being able to administer vaccines.
“The Premier should be introducing policies that support general practice, not contributing to its collapse,” said AMA NSW President, Dr Michael Bonning.
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