Transcript: National President’s Address at PSA21VIRTUAL
Associate Professor Chris Freeman:
Good morning. Thank you all for joining us.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the Turrbal and Yuggera peoples of the lands that I am speaking to you from today. I also acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which each of you are living, learning and practising from today. As we share our knowledge and wisdom, may we also pay respect to our Elders, both past and present, as it is their knowledge and experiences that hold the key to the success of future generations.
I extend a warm welcome to everyone online today, joining us live across Australia. I particularly welcome you, our members; the pharmacists of Australia. An especially warm welcome to those pharmacists living and working from current lockdown areas – our thoughts are with you.
While all of you pivoted your practice during COVID-19, so has PSA, and I am thrilled to be speaking to you through this impressive digital platform to all corners of the country. For every Australian, the pandemic has been hard. Harder for some than others. But hard for everyone – including every one of you. I extend my sincere thanks to you – Australia’s pharmacists, from every walk of practice, and in every hospital and community, who have been on the frontline since day one of this global health crisis. Your patients needed you. You couldn’t stay home. You had to contend with public panic, anxiety, rapidly changing regulations, medicine shortages and workplace operations were turned upside-down. You also had to work with the fear of becoming sick. We know at least 63 pharmacists contracted COVID-19 in Victoria’s second wave. Many others were and continue to be intimately impacted, most recently in New South Wales. I commend and thank all frontline pharmacists for your hard work, dedication and professionalism under immense pressure. I also extend my sincere thanks to pharmacists in other practice environments – in government, defence, education and in professional bodies. You played a significant role in keeping Australians safe during the pandemic.
While it is often said the wheels of government turn slowly, this hasn’t been the case for pharmacists in supporting significant health and regulatory change. These changes are likely to be ongoing. Expanded PBS Continued Dispensing, telehealth, electronic prescriptions have all been accelerated by the bushfire and pandemic crises. PSA will not give up on good policy recommendations such as the proper implementation and expansion of therapeutic substitution, as now it remains an example of bureaucratic red tape that stifles pharmacists helping patients in need. Because of how you stood up, it is becoming easier for PSA to campaign for change. Change which supports your patients, change which supports the community, and change which recognises you and your contribution. A focus for us now is to improve vaccination remuneration for pharmacists.
Our colleagues in the UK receive the equivalent of 30 Australian dollars per vaccination, not dissimilar to the funding received by Australian GP’s. It is nearly double the current private market or payment for COVID-19 vaccination by pharmacists in Australia. No matter your practice environment, we will fight for fairer recognition. Vaccination has been the political football of 2021. Polarising media coverage, shifting clinical guidance and political barbs have become our daily norm. However, while others argued, pharmacists got organised. You got ready. Over 2,000 of you have undergone vaccination training in the past 12 months. This surge now means over 50 percent of all pharmacists in Australia are now trained vaccinators. Over 3,900 community pharmacies submitted their EOI’s, showing they were ready and deemed eligible. You got started. Frustratingly, while the community pharmacies sat waiting on the bench, pharmacists in hospitals, vaccination hubs, general practice and ACCHO’s started vaccinating. Some pharmacists went into quarantine hotels to administer Australia’s first vaccines in red zones. Others joined the aged care vaccine workforce.
I am so excited that, finally, all pharmacist vaccinators are being brought on board over the next few weeks with the activation of community pharmacies through August. Long overdue, this will accelerate Australia’s exit from the pandemic. But this hasn’t come easy. Your PSA has had to fight hard for this. We fought for every one of the individual changes to state and territory regulations during the past 6 months. Changes that removed unfair restrictions stopping pharmacists fully playing our part protecting the community. We fought hard for the activation of community pharmacists in the media and behind closed doors. We continue to look for wins on your behalf – particularly in ending mRNA vaccine discrimination and fair remuneration.
On that topic, a little bit like house prices, the supply and demand equilibrium for pharmacists has changed. Increased demand for pharmacists during the pandemic, including in supporting the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, has seen upward pressure on wages. As one of the profession’s primary concerns, this increase in remuneration is welcome. However, outside the supply and demand swings of the pandemic, meaningful increases in wages is going to require more high value roles for pharmacists outside the “four walls” of a community pharmacy, and more money within the community pharmacy sector. Pushing towards ‘full-scope-of-practice’ for pharmacists achieves both of these. Released in February 2019, Pharmacists in 2023 is the profession’s blueprint for full scope of practice in all settings where pharmacists work. We are committed to making it happen. We already have runs on the board.
PSA’s leadership in advocating for and supporting you in administration of medicines by injection and vaccination has created real opportunities to charge for high-value services – which during the conference, Dr Shane Jackson, talks more about on Sunday afternoon. PSA’s leadership in creating your future roles also has the profession well on the path to full scope of practice. Roles in general practice, palliative care, aged-care and Aboriginal Community Control Health Organisations. You’ll hear more on this in the aged-care session later this afternoon and the Close the Gap session on Sunday. Through PSA-led projects, over 60 of you have practised in in these emerging roles, creating the evidence for future expansion across Australia. Pharmacists like Ellen Jones in a North Queensland ACCHO, Julian Soriano in South Australia’s palliative and aged care, and Mayli Foong as a Western Australian general practice pharmacist. We are now seeing governments and private providers committing resources to these roles knowing they work. Julian and Mayli will talk about their work throughout the conference.
We know, pharmacists are the medicine experts. That’s why we know how important medicine safety is. As Australia embarks on a review of the National Medicines Policy, we will continue to set the agenda, around medicines safety and Quality Use of Medicines, building on the significant work PSA has led through our Medicine Safety series. I have spoken with the Minister for Health, the Honourable Greg Hunt, in the last 24 hours, and he has asked me to make an important announcement regarding the National Medicines Policy Review. Earlier this year, the Minister announced that Professor Michael Kidd will Chair the expert advisory committee to lead the review of the National Medicines Policy. Today I am pleased to announce, on behalf of the Minister, the rest of the National Medicines Policy Committee, including PSA Life Fellow Professor Lloyd Sansom; Janette Donovan; PSA Branch Committee member Dr Sarah Dineen-Griffin, and David Herd. This Committee brings expertise in medicines policy, clinical practice, consumer engagement and the pharmaceutical industry to the Review. The Committee will report to the Minister for Health through the Chair. The Minister will also release the terms of reference for the review this morning. The review process will begin in August 2021 and is anticipated to take approximately six months. PSA looks forward to working closely with the Committee to ensure medicines safety and quality use of medicines are strengthened as a central pillar of the National Medicines Policy.
Just as you have stood up, so has PSA, your professional organisation. Last year, we focussed on helping you navigate the pandemic. We established a microsite to help comprehend all the regulatory changes and practice issues as they arose. This microsite had over 170,000 views and became a go-to resource not just for pharmacists, but also for government departments and doctors trying to navigate their legal obligations. We continue to maintain the page, updated now to include state-by-state comparisons of vaccine regulations and access. Despite diverting resources to supporting you during the pandemic, we continued to deliver for you in education, advocacy and support. We established the pharmacist-to-pharmacist support line, which has already taken nearly 3,000 calls from members. Your PSA kept producing new CPD content for you, on the full breadth of clinical topics and practice issues. And despite the demands of serving your patients in the pandemic, you collectively worked through 200,000 education activities offered through 2020. And your PSA was first in bringing back face-to-face learning in the Annual Therapeutic Updates across 2021. After a period of stability, it is indeed cruel that pharmacists in our host city of PSA21 are facing such a challenging outbreak at this time. Again, all of our thoughts are with you. Please reach out to your PSA for any support your need.
On the topic of delivering for members, I am pleased to announce a new member benefit; the Communities of Special Interest. For a long time, you have been asking for ways to come together and support innovation and strategic progression in specific areas of clinical practice. The Communities of Specialty Interest (CSI’s) are a new way for members to engage and set the future of the profession and PSAs work. PSA members can join a CSI and will benefit from the strategic advice, support and dedication of its leadership and practice groups. The first of these will be the Early Career Pharmacists CSI. I encourage all PSA ECPs to visit PSA’s website to join. PSA will announce and launch three additional CSI’s in September, which will be led by Dr Fei Sim, Debbie Rigby and Sinthia Bosnic-Anticevich.
It remains important that we continue to recognise pharmacists who have gone above and beyond and this year we will recognise the PSA Excellence Award winners on World Pharmacist Day 25th September.
Finally, none of this will be possible without you – our members. I say to you, the strength of PSA, is you, our members. If you are not a member, I strongly encourage you to sign up. We need you to stand behind the Society in achieving the outcomes we all want, and our patients need. One thing I can tell you is that we won’t waiver from the objectives.
With that, I invite the Honourable Greg Hunt, Minister for Health and Aged Care, to say a few words.
Media contact: PSA media 0424 777 463