Why rural pharmacists need special treatment

Quilty calls for urgent action to improve access to healthcare

The Pharmacy Guild wants better financial support for rural pharmacies to help improve access to healthcare across regional Australia.

Why rural pharmacists need special treatment

Many of the more than 1000 regional pharmacies — more than 400 in one-pharmacy towns — are struggling to cope with a “range of business challenges”, says Guild executive director David Quilty.

Rural pharmacies, even those in larger regional centres, struggle to attract pharmacists, despite offering higher-than-average salaries and assisting with costs such as rent.

An urgent community pharmacy regional workforce strategy is needed, focusing on policy changes and financial incentives to attract and retain rural pharmacists, Mr Quilty writes in Forefront.

“Federal and state government financial support to assist with rural pharmacy workforce issues is minimal compared with other health professionals, including GPs.

“The current one-size-fits-all system of pharmacy remuneration does not recognise the additional labour, freight and travel costs faced by rural pharmacies, including those pharmacies that serve the medicine needs of remote Aboriginal communities.”

With many regional communities battling terrible drought, the role of rural pharmacies has never been more important, Mr Quilty says.

There are regular reports of families having to wait weeks to see a doctor, with a lack of bulk-billing leaving struggling families with high out-of-pocket costs.

“If you live in a smaller rural town, the local pharmacy is not only your first port of call when a family member is sick, but may actually be your only readily assessible local healthcare provider.”

Yet the current regulatory environment does not take into account the wider health role of rural pharmacists and the fact pharmacies are in effect community health hubs because of a lack of other services.

“The arguments against expanding pharmacy scope of practice that are put forward by organisations representing the interests of big-city doctors hold zero weight in rural communities where there is no accessible alternative for vaccinations, health screening and preventative health services, the timely treatment of minor ailments and obtaining continuing medicines without a prescription.”