The Government’s decision to redirect funding for on-site pharmacists in Government-funded aged care homes has come as a surprise to the industry and its impact remains unclear.
Pharmacists provide critical clinical support in aged care as they perform Resident Medication Management Reviews (RMMR), assess risks and work in multidisciplinary teams to deliver care.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety identified medication management as one of the essential areas for improvement. They recommended the introduction of on-site pharmacists to regularly review medications, but not the installation of a pharmacy within aged care facilities.
In response, the then-Liberal Government set aside almost $350 million in funding for aged care providers themselves, to allow them full control of the implementation of an on-site pharmacist program.
But last week that decision was reversed as Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, said the funding would instead go to community pharmacies.
“I am announcing today a change to that policy, so that the $350 million allocated in the Budget for that measure will instead be delivered by and through community pharmacies, again, giving those pharmacists an opportunity to show the value that they can provide to the community in delivering services rather than just processing repeat scripts,” Minister Butler revealed.
Minister Butler also told the media he wanted to see pharmacists “out from behind the counter, working directly with patients”.
His announcement was a small feature of a larger press conference focused on the cheaper medicines policy, and few within the aged care industry saw it coming.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) was among the most vocal about the plan.
Its submission to the consultation team last year prioritised the model where pharmacists were employed by Primary Health Networks (PHNs) instead of aged care providers. The AMA said that model would ensure pharmacists remain independent from aged care providers while delivering quality services.
But the Government’s decision to place funding in the hands of community pharmacies has even caught them by surprise.
“Whatever the model, it will need to ensure close collaboration between a pharmacist and a patient’s usual GP, with ongoing evaluation built into the program to ensure that it delivers meaningful improvements in care for aged care residents.”
Residents should still benefit from on-site pharmacists as there has been no mention of removing the service – funding has only been diverted.
But for Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Tom Symondson, that’s still a disappointing outcome for aged care providers.
“This ensures quality and consistency of standards of the review. Medicines clearly have beneficial effects which can improve health and wellbeing, but some may also have harmful unintended consequences.”
“An accredited pharmacist on site can review medication where a resident has had unintended effects to ensure dosages are administered correctly.”