Pharmacists would have a far greater role in the health system under the proposed shake-up. Picture: iStock
Pharmacists would have a far greater role in the health system under the proposed shake-up. Picture: iStock

Viagra, pill to be available over the counter

PHARMACIES could be allowed to fill repeat prescriptions, vaccinate against a wide range of illnesses and sell medicines like the contraceptive pill and Viagra over the counter as part of a shake-up to be investigated by state parliament.

Patients could also buy non-addictive drugs used to treat conditions such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory illnesses, asthma and dermatitis without going to a GP under the push by the state's pharmacy lobby.

The proposals, which the government has agreed to consider, will spark a turf war between pharmacists and doctors over who has the ability to prescribe drugs and provide basic medical treatments.

Queensland's pharmacy lobby has convinced the state government to set up an inquiry into the regulation of their businesses that will consider a major overhaul of their role in the health system.

As part of the review, which will be finished by the end of September, the Queensland Pharmacy Guild will push for tougher regulation of large chemist chains and look at setting up an industry-funded pharmacy council with the power to enforce rules and impose penalties.

In a move that could see patients get a range of medical treatments without seeing a doctor, the inquiry will also look at changing "pharmacists' and pharmacy assistants' roles and scope of practice".

News Queensland understands Health Minister Steven Miles agreed to this wording and is open to consider expanding the role of pharmacists, especially compared to other states.

Queensland was the first state to allow pharmacies to vaccinate against the flu but other states including South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria now allow a range of other jabs including against whooping cough.

The Pharmacy Guild wants Queensland to follow the UK and New Zealand by allowing consumers to buy contraceptive medicine and erectile dysfunction drugs without a prescription.

Pharmacists will also argue the Canadian province of Alberta, which has some of the least restrictive rules for pharmacists in the world, should be seen as a model for Queensland.

At a minimum, pharmacists want to able to provide repeat prescriptions to patients such as women who are taking the contraceptive pill or people with asthma after they are first seen by a GP.

"Once treatment has been initiated by a health practitioner, why shouldn't a patient be able to fill repeat prescriptions at a community pharmacy?" Queensland Pharmacy Guild director Trent Twomey told News Queensland.

"If you are on long term medication for diabetes or asthma, you shouldn't have to go back and get another prescription for these drugs that are not high risk and are not drugs of abuse."

Mr Twomey said there were 16,000 pharmacists and pharmacy assistants in the state who could be used to ease pressure on the health system by taking over some work completed by doctors.

But doctors have warned any moves to allow pharmacists to prescribe drugs could be dangerous because they have an incentive to sell more and may not notice problems suffered by patients.

"If you have someone who is both the prescriber and the dispenser, there is far too much room for the profit motive to get in the way of quality of care," said Brisbane GP Richard Kidd.

"Pharmacists are not trained in whole of body care. They might not notice something about the patient that is a potential side effect or bad outcome of the medication."

Dr Kidd, who chairs the committee of general practice for the Australian Medical Association Queensland, warned allowing pharmacists to provide more vaccinations posed a risk to life if a patient went into anaphylactic shock.

The inquiry will also review all sales of pharmacies in Queensland over the past two years after concerns about the expansion of listed company Ramsay Health into the sector.

Ramsay Pharmacy chief executive Peter Giannopoulos told News Queensland his company was not concerned about the inquiry and had abided by state laws.

Health Minister Steven Miles said he had consulted with the Pharmacy Guild over the review after committing at the last election to investigate setting up a Pharmacy Council to improve regulation.

"The inquiry will consider how a Pharmacy Council would operate in Queensland and look at how pharmacists and pharmacy assistants operate in other states," he said.

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