GPs have warned that a push by pharmacists to allow access to COVID-19 antivirals treatments without a prescription could jeopardize patient safety.
There are two oral antivirals available in Australia, and while early treatment is critical to lessen the effects of the virus, access is restricted.
All Australians over 70 and people over 50 at risk of severe disease from COVID-19 are eligible to access the treatments, and patients need a prescription from a GP or a nurse practitioner.
Australia’s pharmacy body is asking the federal government to consider allowing the medications to be supplied over the counter to allow people to have faster access to them upon infection.
Pharmacy Guild president Trent Twomey said patients were frustrated with wait times for GP appointments which led to delays in being able to access the treatments.
But patient safety must always be prioritised, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners said.
While more action must be taken to ensure treatments are provided to those who need them quickly, over the counter dispensing is not the answer, RACGP president Karen Price said.
“Allowing pharmacists to prescribe and dispense antivirals will not improve access and there are significant risks to patients,” Professor Price said.
“These drugs have what we call ‘contraindications’ which is the term used to describe when a particular treatment should not be used, as well as interactions with other common medications.”
General practitioners know the health history of their patients and can assess the potential impacts of the antivirals while pharmacies can’t, Price said.
“Pharmacies should keep their focus on the job at hand, which is availability of stock, rather than the supply of oral antivirals without a prescription,” she said.
“There should be a website showing where stock is available, as they have previously done for rapid antigen test stocks.” Price said the antiviral treatments can be the difference between a patient having mild effects from the virus or ending up in hospital.
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“However, we must proceed with caution because the last thing we want to do is potentially endanger patients,” she said.
Following antiviral treatment access being expanded in July, Health Minister Mark Butler said prescription rates almost tripled.
Australia recorded more than 27,000 COVID-19 cases and 133 deaths on Wednesday and there are nearly 4,500 people in hospital with the virus.
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