15 May 2024

Pharmacist says they cannot replace GPs - but can help with winter health woes

7:12 pm on 15 May 2024
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Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand says pharmacists are a great first port of call for anyone starting to feel unwell who needs advice. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Health bosses are pointing people to pharmacies as a first port of call as winter looms.

The pressure on GPs and the long wait times to get into one has seen Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand suggest people head to their local pharmacy first, for primary care advice and treatment, as well as vaccinations.

In a media statement, Te Whatu Ora chief clinical officer Dr Richard Sullivan said this winter would be busier than usual and urged people to prepare by having enough medication.

Healthline will be available as an advice line but it warned call volumes increased during winter.

Mangawhai Pharmacy director and pharmacist Lanny Wong said pharmacists were not a replacement for GPs but did have a place in dealing with the medical profession's heavy winter workload.

"Anyone with sort of chronic conditions or long-term conditions you know you need to have a plan, you need to have your follow-up appointment made with your GP," she said.

People with conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or chronic heart failure needed to ensure they had a follow-up doctor's appointment to ensure their prescription was in place and that they had been thoroughly checked, she said.

"We are always here if you need something checked, like you know for example if someone's on high blood pressure medication, they suddenly feel unwell, they can always pop into the pharmacy to get their blood pressure checked."

Pharmacists may be able to do some work with people suffering from minor ailments, she said.

"There was a pilot called Minor Ailment Service that pharmacists were allowed to provide for about a period of three months."

During the pilot programme pharmacists were treating conditions such as pain and fever in children, scabies, conjunctivitis and some minor skin conditions, she said.

Wong said the pilot programme was not available in some places this winter, but she would like to see it continued.

"My region in Northland, fortunately this service is still available so we are currently still providing it to our community.

"It's been really great people could come in with any minor condition, scabies, and we can provided funded services for the whole family to treat the conditions ... it's just one thing that we can take care of without people having to find time to go see their GP."

Wong said in her area, which was rural, there was often a one to two week wait to get a GP appointment.

She said the emergency medical clinic was only about 30 minutes away but that was still challenging for some people to get to.

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