SA parliamentary committee to explore how pharmacists could dispense medication for UTIs

Home Politics SA parliamentary committee to explore how pharmacists could dispense medication for UTIs
SA parliamentary committee to explore how pharmacists could dispense medication for UTIs

The South Australian parliament will explore how pharmacists could provide medication for some urinary tract infections without the need for a doctor’s prescription, following similar moves interstate.

In Queensland, specifically-trained pharmacists can provide urinary tract infection (UTI) medication to non-pregnant adult women who meet certain criteria, after a pilot program was made permanent in October.

The New South Wales government has committed to a similar trial. 

Now a South Australian parliamentary committee has been set up to explore barriers to timely access to UTI treatment and how the Queensland model could work in SA.

UTIs are very common, particularly in women, and untreated or delayed treatment can lead to complications such as a kidney infection.

Mikaela Andrews has dealt with UTIs since the age of 15 and has struggled to quickly access her GP when she feels the onset of symptoms.

“She can quite often be booked out as well, and it’s very inconvenient when you just want to get that medication which can take away the pain quite rapidly,” she said.

A woman wearing a purple and white blazer and purple shirt stands in front of news microphones
Michelle Atchison says the AMA SA is “absolutely opposed” to pharmacists being able to prescribe UTI medication. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

The 21-year-old from Adelaide’s south would welcome being able to get medication from a pharmacy.

“If you can get that medication at the chemist it makes a lot more sense,” she said.

But the SA branch of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has raised concerns with the state following such moves.

AMA SA president Dr Michelle Atchison said the association was “absolutely opposed” to the concept, which she said could result in patients losing access to confidential and thorough consultations.

“A pharmacist is very good at dispensing medication and we absolutely require their help when it comes to giving a prescription,” she said.

“But the whole thought that they would also be diagnosing and then prescribing we believe is absolutely flawed and needs to be re-thought and shouldn’t be brought here in South Australia.”

A headshot of a man with dark hair wearing a blue suit and yellow and navy striped tie
Nick Panayiaris says allowing pharmacists to dispense UTI medication would help take pressure off the health system.(Supplied: Pharmacy Guild of Australia)

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia state branch president Nick Panayiaris said many South Australians already ask their pharmacist about UTIs as their first port of call.

“Unfortunately at the moment our toolkit in what we can provide in terms of treatment is very limited, generally it’s symptomatic treatment … but it doesn’t actually fix the problem if it is an infection issue,” he said.

Mr Panayiaris said it was within the scope of a pharmacist’s “training and knowledge” to assess patients using “very strict” guidelines.

“We would have to follow the same therapeutic guidelines that doctors have to follow,” he said.

Mr Panayiaris said accessing a GP quickly can be difficult, and timely treatment was “really important” for UTIs.

“Timely access and timely treatment can prevent further complications … even a 24 or 48 hour delay can lead to a worsening of the condition and/or complications,” he said.

Multiple packets of colourful pharmaceutical medicines.
The inquiry will examine approaches interstate and overseas, and how timely and safe access to UTI medications can be provided in SA.(Pixabay)

Dr Atchison acknowledged the difficulties South Australians can face in accessing a GP in a timely way.

“But I’ve spoken with my GP colleagues, they take urinary tract infections or those sort of symptoms very seriously so if you ring up your general practice they will absolutely try to put you in as quickly as possible,” she said.

“We know that’s something that needs to be seen very quickly.”

Dr Atchison said access issues should be improved with better funding for GPs, rather than allowing pharmacists to provide medication. 

But Mr Panayiaris said timely treatment by a pharmacist could reduce pressure on GPs as well as reducing visits to the emergency department for untreated infections.

“It just doesn’t make sense that we’re not utilising not only pharmacists but all health professionals to work at their scope of practice … to take pressure off the system and improve access to treatment for certain conditions,” he said.

The parliamentary committee chair, Jayne Stinson, said the inquiry was “keen to hear from a range of medical professionals, including the AMA”.

“The bi-partisan committee will examine all the evidence and make recommendations to the parliament,” she said.

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