Calls for pharmacists to be able to prescribe certain medications as GPs raise alarm bells over insufficient funding, staff

New Zealand's health sector is cracking under the strain of insufficient funding and staff, but a pharmacist believes a simple practice can take a big weight off frontline services.   

General practitioners (GPs) are in crisis mode and in the past month an unprecedented 155 clinics have issued a formal warning to the Government, saying they’re in danger of not being able to provide services.

The United Kingdom is tackling its own health service woes by allowing pharmacists to prescribe treatments for common illnesses and there are calls for the government to do the same in New Zealand, as we did over winter in 2023.   

Samantha Tibshraeny, a pharmacist at Auckland's Westmere Pharmacy, told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green bringing the initiative back is a good idea.  

"Last year for a three-month period we were funded in pharmacies to help people with pretty minor ailments."  

This included conjunctivitis, eye infections, pain and fever, scabies eczema, and others.  

"It was really successful," she said.   

"We were able to give people funded consultations and funded medicine for things they might otherwise go to their GP for."  

Over the three months in 2023, pharmacists did around 60,000 of these consultations, easing the pressure on GPs.   

"It really takes a big burden off the GPs," she said.   

Going forward, Tibshraeny wants the practice implemented again.   

She said it could be implemented over winter again but is also open to it being in place year-round.   

"These are things that pharmacists in New Zealand are already trained to do and that we already treat," she said.   

It also saves Kiwis' money because the government was paying for the pharmacist consultations.   

Tibshraeny said it "really just widened the access".  

Asked whether the change puts pharmacists under undue pressure, Tibshraeny admitted "there are shortages in every health care sector including pharmacy".  

"However, these are all already things that we help people with, so it does make sense that the government puts funding towards these services."  

Getting the funding to provide the services would help make sure that those who can't afford a GP visit are not missed.   

Tibshraeny described it as "a really big benefit to the health system".  

She also noted that the accessibility of pharmacies would help "people treat their minor issues when they're still minor and not waiting until it becomes a big problem".  

People waiting for GP visits and getting sicker in the process is compounding the already strained sector.   

"Treating early is so beneficial."  

The funding will be another expense for a government that is trying to cut spending across the board, but Tibshraeny said "treating early is always cost saving because people get help when they need it instead of waiting two weeks and ending up in hospital where it will cost more and need more specialist involvement".

She said the scabies outbreak in 2023 was a good example of catching health issues early.

"If we can treat a flat early instead of waiting till they can afford to go to the GP or waiting two weeks to get an appointment it's better for everyone and cost-saving."  

Tibshraeny wants the Government to "utilise pharmacists more than they currently are.  

Te Whatu Ora, Health New Zealand, told AM that no decisions have been made about the future of the service.   

They are currently evaluating the impact of 2023's winter health initiatives.