The National Rural Health Alliance has published a Discussion Paper about the relatively poor access to medicines and pharmaceutical advice available to people in rural and remote areas.
Tim Kelly, Chairperson of the Alliance, described the situation as an important healthcare deficit which has received insufficient attention - but one that could be resolved with some simple and low-cost changes to programs and regulations.
"The new paper demonstrates the extent to which people in Australia's rural and remote areas have poorer access to prescribed and non-prescribed medicines, less advice about the use of medicines, and poorer access to professional pharmacy services," Dr Kelly said.
"As with so many other issues in the rural and remote health sector, there is a gradient of deficit as one moves from major cities through regional areas to remote and very remote places. Our Discussion Paper explores these issues and begins scoping for a project which could advise Australian governments on the best ways to improve the situation."
The paper describes how and where people access medicines and considers the bottlenecks and inefficiencies that need to be addressed.
Reimbursement through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) is the main means by which the Australian Government funds access to medicines and there should be action to bolster the supply of pharmacists (and the services they provide) to rural and remote areas of Australia. For instance there could be scholarships for pharmacy students from rural areas and increased incentives for rural pharmacists to provide training opportunities for pharmacy interns.
The Alliance proposes the investigation of ways to simplify medication prescribing and dispensing legislation and evaluate how such things as pharmacy outposts and telepharmacy can allow more equitable access. Small rural hospitals often do not have the capacity to employ a pharmacist, but they could if the role also provided professional support to local Aboriginal Health Services and professional medicines reviews in the community.
People living outside major cities also have poorer access to advice related to medicines, and this has implications for both the safety of patients and for the effectiveness of their medications. There should be better integration of various programs already in place for the provision of medicines and pharmaceutical advice. By prioritising Quality Use of Medicine initiatives, the government could better manage and reduce chronic disease in rural and remote areas.
Many Aboriginal people in remote areas access medicines through Section 100 arrangements but there is often insufficient professional pharmacist advice provided in these settings. Better funding could allow greater access for these vulnerable Australians to professional pharmacy services the rest of us take for granted.
The Alliance is calling for action on this issue and for further investigation of potential solutions. It is time to ensure that people in rural and remote Australia receive the same level of health care as those in the major cities, including access to medicines.
Tim Kelly, Chairperson 0438 011 383
Gordon Gregory, Executive Director 02 6285 4660