From a difficult start to a triumphant end, here are the most significant events that impacted pharmacy practice in 2022.
It has been a tough roller coaster of a year for pharmacists. Throughout it all Australian Pharmacist has been there to chronicle the happenings and practice updates.
Here’s a rundown of the key events, along with our top-ranked articles of 2022.
A tough start to the year
With the Omicron variant sweeping the nation, the beginning of 2022 saw pharmacists administering back-to-back vaccine booster doses and fielding continuous Rapid Antigen Test inquiries when supplies were virtually non-existent– all while putting themselves at risk to serve Australians.
A distant memory now, many pharmacists needed to isolate after being declared a close contact or contracting COVID-19 themselves, with chronic staff shortages increasing the pressure on teams.
Amazing Take Home Naloxone (THN) Pilot results released
February saw the jaw-dropping results of the THN Pilot released: 1,649 overdose reversals, equating to three lives saved every single day.
‘These results show that by removing [the barrier] of cost to access, we can reduce fatality and long-term injury,’ said PSA’s President at the time Associate Professor Chris Freeman.
The results were so impressive that a National THN Program was rolled out on 1 July, with the Federal Budget allocating $19.6 million in funding over 4 years.
PSA fights for fair remuneration ahead of the election
In the months leading up to the federal Election in May, PSA fought hard to secure an increase in remuneration for pharmacists.
In mid-March, PSA hosted two successful events: Thank Your Pharmacist Day and PSA’s National Advocacy Day of Action, drawing attention to pharmacists’ efforts to protect the community and the need for increased remuneration.
These efforts appeared to pay off, when new Minister for Health and Aged care Mark Butler announced several upcoming changes for the profession at PSA22 in late July. This included announcing PSA as a signatory on the 8th Community Pharmacy Agreement and addressing scope of practice.
On-site aged care
In a major coup for the pharmacy profession, PSA secured new funding to embed pharmacists in Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs). The $345.7 million investment in the program promised by the coalition at the start of the year was confirmed by the new government in late June.
When the program kicks off in 2023, up to 1,500 pharmacist opportunities will open up over 4 years.
While the details of the program were ironed out, PSA strongly advocated for a flexible funding model.
‘This will allow pharmacists from a range of backgrounds to enter aged care facilities, but it will also support the implementation of the program while maintaining a consistent level of quality whether the facility is located in metropolitan centres or rural Australia,’ PSA CEO Mark Kinsela said.
PSA announces new President
In a unanimous decision, the Board elected accomplished WA pharmacist Dr Fei Sim as the new president in late June, who became the first female to lead the organisation since its Federation in 1977.
Dr Sim wasted no time, announcing her plans for the profession at PSA22.
‘My immediate advocacy priorities are furthering our medicine safety agenda, implementing the On-site Aged Care Pharmacist Program, integrating community pharmacists into primary healthcare, improving pharmacist remuneration and driving workforce capability, and leading PSA to have a global impact and fulfil our social responsibility to our region,’ she said.
Pharmacy scope of practice increases in Queensland
The final outcome report of the 18-month Urinary Tract Infection Pharmacy Pilot – Queensland (UTIPP–Q), revealed that almost 9,000 women accessed the service, with 87% reporting a resolution of symptoms following pharmacist-prescribed treatment.
After this momentous achievement, it was announced in mid-July that the pilot would become permanent.
PSA cements its place as the home of accreditation
In late September, the Australian Association of Consultant Pharmacy announced it was closing its doors at the end of 2022. However, from early next year, pharmacists will be able to undertake accreditation through PSA.
Key to the development of the new accreditation model was the establishment of the PSA Accreditation Expert Advisory Group (EAG) led by Chair Debbie Rigby FPS, which has plans to revolutionise the training and assessment process.
Medicine shortages and continued dispensing list reversal cause frustration
At the tail end of the year, the medicines shortages crisis reached its peak, with critical medicines such as semaglutide, dulaglutide and amoxicillin in dangerously low supply.
Meanwhile, the dramatic slashing of medicines accessible through PBS Continued Dispensing arrangements was felt during devastating floods in NSW and Victoria in October. With only 168 medicines now available (down from 906), some patients in flood-affected areas were forced to go without their medicines.
National scope of practice reforms announced
Despite the difficulties pharmacists endured this year, the hard slog has paid off – with most jurisdictions around Australia announcing an increase to pharmacists’ scope of practice.
Following Queensland’s example, NSW announced a major upswing in pharmacy services, with several pharmacy prescribing pilots due to start next year and an increase in the number of vaccinations pharmacists can offer.
A new National Medicines Policy for Christmas
And just yesterday (20 December), the government rounded out the year with the release of a refreshed updated National Medicines Policy, which has an increased focus on equality and equity in access to medicines as well as focussing more on partnerships to support safer medicine use for all Australians.
Top five AP articles of the year
If you’ve been too busy to keep up to date with all of the pharmacy news this year, don’t worry, AP has you covered with our top stories this year – just the thing to keep you entertained these holidays.
In a PSA webinar on emergency contraception earlier this year, Associate Professor Safeera Hussainy MPS emphasised that there’s ‘no choice without access’.
‘So it’s really important to enable that access and remove any barrier.’
Barriers to access include the paper form and checklist developed for supplying emergency contraception in conjunction with Family Planning Australia in 2004, which is now outdated.
‘Just having a normal, regular conversation as you would for any Schedule 3 medicine is [recommended],’ A/Prof Hussainy said.
After oral antiviral treatments for COVID-19 were approved in January, they were rolled out in residential aged care facilities and rural and remote communities the following month, with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations also prioritised.
‘The advantage of these oral medications is that people will be able to receive treatment for COVID-19 in their own homes or in residential aged care facilities without the need to travel to hospital for treatment as an inpatient,’ Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd said at the time.
Following the shock announcement that the number of medicines available via Continued Dispensing arrangements would reduce, further state-by-state updates were announced in early July.
These changes came at a particularly difficult time, following more floods in NSW and delayed flights and lost luggage during the school holidays, demonstrating why regulations that support the supply of medicines in an emergency are so important.
From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists were able to supply and claim for prescriptions sent via fax, email or SMS to support telehealth consultation.
When the digital image prescribing initiative came to an end on 31 March, the transition was not an easy one, with pharmacists bearing the burden of chasing valid prescriptions.
‘Pharmacists are in the unfortunate position of having to chase up original copies of prescriptions that may have been filed in their prescribers’ records,’ said PSA Senior Pharmacist Peter Guthrey MPS.
‘However, the profession has told us that digital image prescribing has created significant patient safety, administrative and legal challenges to work through. Once we move beyond the transition, we will be in a better place.’
From 1 July, the PBS Safety Net thresholds were reduced, with 25% fewer prescriptions needed for concession card holders to reach the PBS Safety Net. Over 600,000 additional patients were expected to benefit this year from the safety net scheme as a result.
While there will be annual indexation of the lower PBS thresholds in 2023, the PBS general co-payment will reduce from to $30 from $42.50 from on 1 January.
If you’re lucky enough to get a break this holiday season, from everyone at the AP team – enjoy some well-earned rest. Until next year!