Pharmacist prescribers may ease GP pressures

GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2012

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Government approval of new regulations under the Medicines Act 1981 that will allow specially trained pharmacists to prescribe medication could ease pressure on GPs in the south, a Queenstown pharmacist believes.

The Government announced last Friday that 14 pharmacists were now undertaking a new postgraduate certificate in pharmacist prescribing at pharmacy schools at Auckland and Otago universities. Half the trainees expected to complete their training next year work in hospitals, the other half work in primary care.

The new regulations are being drafted.

Dr Melissa Copland - who also sits on an advisory committee to Pharmac - said approval of "pharmacist prescribers" was a great idea, and hoped it could streamline the prescribing process for GPs.

While pharmacists would not be able to diagnose, they would be able to adjust and tailor medication, she said. This was previously a doctor's task.

The system would be used in an integrated health centre where a pharmacist would be mentored and supervised by a medical practitioner, she said.

Pharmacy Council of New Zealand chairman Andrew Bary - a Queenstown pharmacist - said there had been some misconception the new regulations would mean people could just walk into a community pharmacy, be diagnosed by the pharmacist and then given a prescription. That would not be the case, Dr Bary said. The pharmacist prescriber would not be dispensing the medication if he or she were prescribing.

It was not known where any of the 14 graduates would choose to work once they received their qualification next year, he said.

Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne says the new regulations are also about ease of access to services for patients and make good use of pharmacist training and knowledge. The system has been successfully implemented in Britain, the United States and Canada.

The positioning of the role, as a key member of the health team, will mean patients get access to all the care they need, faster, and in one place, he says.

Dr Copland stressed that pharmacist prescribers would be working as a team and a pharmacist prescriber would not be an alternative to a GP. Because of the extra education needed, it would not mean "every second pharmacist" would be getting the qualification.

Southern Primary Health Organisation chairman Ian Macara said he was not familiar enough with the new regulations to comment on their ability to take pressure off GPs.

Invercargill GP Bruce McKercher also said he wasn't sure how the new regulations would affect GPs in the south, but said working together with pharmacists was important.

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