Q&A: Shadow Federal Health Minister Catherine King

As a supporter of pharmacists, Catherine King MP is a firm believer in having a ‘broader’ role for pharmacists in Australia’s health system.

During her speech at PSA17, Ms King said: ‘I want to recognise that pharmacists play a broader role in our healthcare system. For example, every State and Territory now asks you to help manage influenza by administering flu vaccines.’

She said pharmacists can play a role as medicines experts especially in the management of chronic conditions.

Q Why are you so passionate about improving healthcare in Australia?

A Healthcare is one of those unique issues that impacts Australians at every stage of their lives – from birth to death. And a person’s ability to access the healthcare they need – when they need it – is so intrinsically linked to their quality of life. We have a fantastic healthcare system in Australia but there’s growing inequality in access to healthcare and health outcomes. That’s why I’m so passionate about making sure our healthcare system is the strongest it can be.

Q How important is the role of pharmacists to improve Australia’s healthcare system?

A Pharmacists have unique knowledge about the role of medicines and play an important role in ensuring people are able to access them through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) – one of the most integral planks of our universal healthcare model. And for many Australians, a pharmacist will be their first port of call for advice when they are unwell.

Q What benefits are achieved by pharmacists working in collaboration with other health professionals including doctors?

A The role of pharmacy is changing – and will continue to change – as our entire health system changes. I’m a firm believer that there is a greater role for pharmacists to play as medicines experts especially in the management of chronic conditions. With a growing burden of chronic disease in Australia, we will need to find smarter ways to use our health resources. I think that closer collaboration between all health professionals will be integral to this.

Q What advice do you have for pharmacists to improve their engagements with medical professionals?

A Pharmacists are incredibly valuable resources not just for the community but for other health professionals. I think the key to interaction is ensuring pharmacists use their incredibly unique experience and skillset to show how they can improve the patient experience.

I’ve been on the record saying I don’t think pharmacists should expand into areas which will only increase duplication and double billing of Medicare. But likewise I don’t think there is enough recognition of the value that pharmacists can add in their own right. I think improving this recognition will help improve engagement between the industry and medical professionals. We all share a vision for patient-centred primary care where services are better integrated and coordinated. Pharmacists are critical to this.

Q As medicines experts, how can pharmacists play a greater role in community health?

A One in four Australians have a chronic condition and the social and economic costs of this are incredibly significant, something that will only continue to grow. If we are concerned about chronic disease and the strain it puts on our healthcare system, then the obvious answer is to keep people as well as possible for as long as possible. As key primary health providers, pharmacies play a dual role in both prevention and keeping people well and helping people access the primary care they need.

Q Would you recommend patients talking to their local pharmacists about minor illnesses, vaccination and medicines advice?

A Of course, pharmacists are incredibly important, knowledgeable health professionals and can be an excellent referral point for further health treatment, or on the spot advice.