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Friday, December 8, 2023

Budget supports pharmacists in aged care, but ignores pay disparities for services

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The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) said it welcomes funding in the Federal Budget for embedding pharmacists into aged care, but is disappointed that unfair disparities in pharmacist remuneration for key services have been overlooked.

PSA national president, Associate Professor Chris Freeman, was frustrated that no commitments were made to improving remuneration for pharmacists’ services.

“Whilst we are delighted that the Minister has recognised the important role that pharmacists play, by recently announcing $345.7 million in funding to embed pharmacists in aged care facilities, the fact that fair remuneration for services that pharmacists provide has once again been overlooked by the Government is a bitter pill to swallow,” Freeman said.

“Despite the immense pressure they’ve been subjected to over the past 24 months and the overwhelming appreciation shown by politicians on Thank Your Pharmacist Day two weeks ago, the Government will continue to significantly undervalue pharmacists for their services for the foreseeable future.

Freeman said the Government’s failure to rectify these inequalities is unacceptable, and is ‘a slap in the face for pharmacists who kept on delivering during the pandemic’.

“In our Federal Budget Submission, PSA highlighted two key pharmacist services which require immediate financial support – case conferencing and vaccinations,” he said.

“As it stands, pharmacists are the only health provider that the Government does not remunerate for their time and participation in case conferencing.

“In addition to this, pharmacists are being remunerated at a significantly lower rate than other providers for providing exactly the same vaccination services, including vaccinations against COVID-19.

“Introducing an MBS service payment to pharmacists for administering National Immunisation Program vaccines, and a separate MBS rebate for pharmacists to be remunerated for multidisciplinary case conferences, would increase consumer access to pharmacist expertise and skills.

Freeman said the PSA welcomed the Government’s commitment to funding pharmacist roles in aged care, and this initiative will present new and exciting career opportunities for Australian pharmacists.

“However, if these pay disparities continue to exist, it will have dire consequences on Australian healthcare, jeopardising the future of the pharmacist workforce.

“Ahead of the Federal Election, we are calling on the incoming government to prioritise these concerns, improving conditions for pharmacists and ensuring that Australians can continue to access high-quality, accessible care,” he said.

Freeman went on to acknowledge the Government’s commitment to reducing the cost of medicines, but again, reiterated that much more work must be done.

“In a budget aimed at tackling the cost of living, PSA agrees with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia that reducing PBS Safety Net thresholds does not adequately address the rising cost of prescription medicines,” he said.

Concession card holders will need 12 fewer prescriptions to reach the safety net, and general patients approximately two fewer scripts.

PSA also said it welcomes the commitment of $19.6 million to a national take-home naloxone program, following a successful pilot where pharmacists enhanced access to this life-saving rescue medicine.

Over the coming months, PSA said it is committed to working with the current and incoming government to tackle these challenges that Australian pharmacists face.

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