Pharmacists would like prescriber numbers, please

3 minute read

A new petition asks for the right to bill for prescribing, citing the work of a long-defunct government entity.

When pharmacists counsel customers on S2 and S3 medicines or administer an S4 vaccine, their service attracts no Medicare rebate.

As calls for community pharmacist-led prescribing gain traction, there are some within the profession who believe that an MBS rebate should be available to pharmacists.

A petition to the House of Representatives, launched last week, asked the government to recognise pharmacists as valid healthcare providers and allow them to apply for Medicare prescriber numbers.

The government, according to the petition, could do this with the flick of a pen, by simply amending form HW093 – the application for a Medicare provider number/allied health prescriber number – to include pharmacists in the list of AHPRA-registered professionals who can apply.

At the moment, when pharmacists in Queensland prescribe antibiotics to treat cystitis, the patient pays out of pocket. In a proposed Victorian UTI prescribing trial, the state government would cough up $20 per consult for the pharmacist.

Industry publication Australian Journal of Pharmacy reports that the petition itself was started by Melbourne pharmacist Pardeep Singh.

The case for a pharmacist prescriber number centres on how prescribing is defined by Health Workforce Australia in its Health Professionals Prescribing Pathway.

Prescribing, according to the Health Workforce Australia document, is “an iterative process involving the steps of information gathering, clinical decision making, communication and evaluation which results in the initiation, continuation or cessation of a medicine”.

“Pharmacist undertakes [sic] a process that reflects the components of the prescribing process to establish therapeutic need, i.e., communication, clinical information gathering, clinical decision making based on their assessment, other medical conditions, other medicines, ruling out interactions or other physiological conditions of the patient, history, determining the most appropriate drug therapy,” the petition reads.

“Pharmacists fit into the [Health Professionals Prescribing Pathway] defined principles seeing that: Pharmacists ensure that the health, wellbeing, and safety of the person taking a medicine is always maintained.”

Health Workforce Australia, which wrote the definition upon which the petition’s argument is based, no longer appears to exist.

As far as TMR can tell, Health Workforce Australia was a Commonwealth-funded organisation which existed for a few years in the early 2010s.

There isn’t much to find on the internet except an abandoned YouTube account, a few uploads onto a Swinburne University research database and a seemingly unofficial WordPress site with some strangely random content. The YouTube account shows regular updates and CEO messages between January 2011 and November 2013, and the university-owned database shows the final upload from Health Workforce Australia as happening in July 2014.

It is not immediately clear what happened to the organisation and whether any of its reports and documents could be considered up to date or treated as official sources of information at this time.

The Department of Health doesn’t have a specific definition of prescribing, but does define a prescription as a “legal document that health practitioners write for a pharmacist to dispense a specific medicine”.

The Medical Republic has contacted the Department of Health for more information on Health Workforce Australia.

At time of writing, the pharmacy prescriber number petition had just over 900 signatures.

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