In May 2018 the Queensland Parliament launched an Inquiry into the establishment of a pharmacy council and transfer of pharmacy ownership in Queensland. The committee undertaking this inquiry had to consider within the Terms of Reference the roles and scope of practice for pharmacy assistants.
The committee called for submissions from the public on this inquiry. It resulted in over 200 pharmacy owners, pharmacists, pharmacy assistants, patients, and consumer/health group representatives submitting their views on the questions provided in the Inquiry.
In our submission, The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Queensland Branch, estimated that there are 10,000+ pharmacy assistants employed in the state, who interact with and provide advice to patients on a regular basis. They acknowledged that approximately 95% of pharmacies are QCPP accredited, meaning that all pharmacy assistants in those pharmacies who are involved in the support of Schedule 2 & 3 medicine transactions have received training via a Recognised Training Organisation (RTO) and are required to undergo annual refresher training to remain current. This however, means that there is a small gap in training of pharmacy assistants, thus a minimum mandatory training for pharmacy assistants would be a step towards a universal skill set across the workforce.
Submissions from pharmacy owners and assistants also highlighted the disparity in the scope of practice pharmacy assistants working in community pharmacy and hospital, in particular, their ability to handle dangerous drugs. Under the current legislation, a qualified pharmacy assistant working in a Queensland hospital may receive, unpack and handle dangerous drugs. If that same pharmacy assistant were to be employed in a community pharmacy, he or she would not be permitted perform those same tasks with the dangerous drugs, only the pharmacist is allowed.
Pharmacy assistants would have noticed over the past few years that their pharmacists are spending more time interacting with patients in the delivery of preventative health services, be it at the counter or in the consultation room to vaccinate or conduct a MedsCheck. This has resulted in changes to the workflow in the dispensary, with pharmacy assistants taking on more responsibilities in dispensing and administration. As this rate of change continues, we may see the need for a greater number of skilled dispensary technicians in the future and pharmacy assistants may continue to expand their roles.
Following the submissions and five public hearings, the committee handed down their report to the Queensland Health Minister in October, and it included two recommendations relevant to pharmacy assistants.
Firstly, to explore the benefits and risks of extending the scope of practice of community pharmacy assistants in relation to the handling of dangerous drugs. The second, is to explore whether community pharmacy assistants and hospital pharmacy assistants should undergo the same basic mandatory training, and whether this would provide benefits to the community.
The Queensland Parliament will have the opportunity to decide which recommendations it will endorse, and this is expected to happen in the coming months. We will continue to keep our pharmacy assistants updated on any progress.