No smoking gun, but doctors have pharmacy medication scheme in their sights

Frustrated doctors have accused Queensland Health of hiding the inner workings of a medical trial that aims to transfer more power to pharmacists.

Dec 12, 2022, updated Dec 12, 2022
Since 2020, overseas graduates have represented around 45 per cent of all GPs in Australia and over 50 per cent of GPs have attained their medical degree overseas. (File image)

Since 2020, overseas graduates have represented around 45 per cent of all GPs in Australia and over 50 per cent of GPs have attained their medical degree overseas. (File image)

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has campaigned vigorously against the Queensland Government’s trial in North Queensland, saying the move to allow pharmacists the right to diagnose and prescribe treatment is a dangerous conflict of interest that will put patients at risk.

The RACGP, along with AMA Queensland, have also suggested the cashed-up Pharmacy Guild, one of the country’s biggest political donors, is behind the scheme to drive more business towards its pharmacy-owner members.

In a bid to secure irrefutable proof of that view, the RACGP lodged a Right to Information request to the Queensland Health Department on March 28 this year, seeking access to meeting agendas, meeting papers (including notes and briefing papers), minutes, correspondence, budget documents and briefings relating to the pilot.

So far, the request has been denied.

RACGP Queensland chair Dr Bruce Willett slammed the delay and said that patients and GPs deserved better.

“This delay is unacceptable, what has the government got to hide exactly?” he asked.

Willett said that since lodging the application, his team had been subjected to a frustrating bureaucratic nightmare of endless phone calls, consultations and emails.

“Enough is enough, this has gone on for too long,” he said.

“We have gone through all of the proper processes and appear to have been stonewalled.”

RACGP president and Mackay-based GP Dr Nicole Higgins said that scrutiny of the pilot was needed more than ever.

“This is not rocket science, if due process has been followed then these documents exist, and it is in the public’s interest to know what they contain, especially as this pilot is the product of an election promise rather than responding to a demonstrable public need,” she said.

“This RTI Act application is especially important as it will hopefully shed light on these secretive arrangements between the Queensland Government and the Pharmacy Guild.

“So far, the entire Queensland retail pharmacy expanded scope of practice pilot has been rubber-stamped without proper scrutiny and in a proper-functioning democracy that must change.”

Higgins said it was on the record her organisation, along with other peak doctors’ groups and health services withdrew from the pilot’s steering advisory committee due to serious concerns about patient safety, adding that their “hands were tied” and had no option but to walk away.

Despite protesting with their feet, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath announced in October

The government would push ahead with the pilot in the face of public opposition voiced by the RACGP as well as the Australian Medical Association, the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, and the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations in Queensland.

“The entire scheme is very murky,” Higgins said.

“We want to know why the government settled on this election promise, why it is deemed necessary, what communications occurred with the Pharmacy Guild and other groups, what research and evidence was considered, whether potential risks were properly assessed and addressed, how it was designed and how much money is being spent from the public purse.

“Without these answers, we really are flying blind.”

A Queensland Health spokesperson said the program was an ‘Australian-first, and designed to give patients more access to high-quality, integrated, and cost-effective primary health care.

“It aims to supplement – not replace – existing services to the health care they need,” the spokesperson said.

They said the RTI application was being reviewed by the Office of the Information Commissioner while Queensland Health’s RTI team liaised regularly with the RACGP regarding their application.






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