Queensland trial to enable pharmacists to diagnose and prescribe medication alarms to doctors

Pharmacists will have the power to diagnose illnesses and prescribe drugs under a state government pilot scheme, but some doctors say it will put patients’ lives at risk.

The pilot project would allow chemists from 37 local government areas in North Queensland to diagnose 23 conditions, including asthma, type 2 diabetes and heart failure, without seeing a GP.

Some doctors have challenged and one of their main bodies, the National Council of Primary Care Doctors, will raise concerns at a public hearing in Parliament today.

The Australian Medical Association Queensland (AMA) has also expressed concerns that it will lead to significant misdiagnosis of potentially serious conditions while fragmenting care and undermining efforts to control antibiotic prescribing.

The AMA said the trial would also allow pharmacists to prescribe the oral contraceptive pill, a move banned by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

AMAQ resident Chris Perry criticized the plan, saying it could lead to misdiagnosis.(ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

Chairman Chris Perry said pharmacists were not qualified to treat complex illnesses without medical supervision.

“They want people in North Queensland to be treated by someone with a four-year qualification versus someone like a GP with 12 years of training,” he said.

In protest, the AMA removed its representative from a steering committee tasked with formulating the lawsuit.

“It’s second-rate medicine for people in northern Queensland,” Prof Perry said.

“It’s just dangerous.”

“A cheap solution to a systematic problem”

Queensland Association of Rural Physicians President Michael Reinke is a general practitioner in Bowen, where there is a continuing shortage of doctors.

He said the pilot program was a cheap solution to a systemic problem.

A man wearing glasses and a collared shirt sits in front of a background of green vegetation.
Dr Reinke said the trial could lead to more staffing issues in regional areas.(Provided: Queensland Association of Rural Physicians)

“This appears to be a makeshift measure to give patients the option of getting repeat prescriptions for their regular medications without having to undergo a medical examination by a qualified doctor,” Dr Reinke said.

“People in rural Queensland deserve proper medical services.”

He said better training is needed to make rural medicine an attractive career.

“By having pharmacists prescribe [medication] makes it less attractive for doctors to travel to the area.

“You need to have qualified doctors to provide emergency care.

A Queensland Health spokesperson said the department was working with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and other stakeholders.

“The scope of the pilot explores an expanded role for community pharmacists,” the spokesperson said.

“Details of the trial parameters, including inclusion conditions and professional requirements for participating pharmacists have yet to be finalized.”

The ABC understands the pilot is expected to start in June, but Queensland Health said timelines are currently being reviewed.

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