Doctors resisting calls for COVID-19 antiviral treatments to be sold over the counter have accused pharmacists of creating a false narrative for commercial reasons.
The Australian Pharmacy Guild this week publicly petitioned the federal government for the right to dispense the medications without a prescription, citing a national shortage of GPs.
While two oral antivirals are available in Australia and early treatment is considered critical to lessen the effects of the virus, access to them is restricted.
People aged over 70 and those over 50 at risk of severe disease are eligible following consultation with a doctor or nurse.
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Yet the guild believes community pharmacists should be able to supply the treatments over the counter to speed up access upon infection.
The immediate reaction to the idea from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners was around concern over patient safety, citing what it said were significant risks.
The college’s president Karen Price has since gone a step further, saying bypassing the prescription process would be “a recipe for disaster”.
She says the guild’s claims of wait-time blowouts when visiting doctors, and their impact on the narrow window to use antiviral medications, are unfounded and misleading.
“The Pharmacy Guild, which is the body representing pharmacy business owners, needs to stop muddying the message on access for patients,” Prof Price said in a statement.
“Patients need to understand the urgency of contacting their GP when they test positive for COVID-19 and not be distracted by the Pharmacy Guild’s efforts to push their own agenda.”
It wasn’t the time to be creating a “false narrative around accessibility to advance the Pharmacy Guild’s commercial interests”, she added.
GPs would, if appropriate, make complex decisions on the right oral antiviral to use and provide follow-up.
“We have telehealth infrastructure in place to make sure patients can access these medicines while isolating, including patient rebates for longer telephone consultations,” she said.
“We are also calling for these antivirals to be added to the doctor’s bag in the event access to a pharmacy is problematic in emergency situations or for rural and remote locations.”
Doctors were best placed to safely prescribe treatments because they knew their patients, their health histories and what medications they were on, Prof Price added.
Pharmacy Guild president Trent Twomey said on Thursday that GP wait times were growing unacceptably.
In NSW, that meant an average of 4.17 days to see a family doctor and in Victoria, 3.33 days.
At the same time, antivirals needed to commence within five days of the onset of virus symptoms, Prof Twomey said.