8 March 2024

You may not have to visit a GP for early shingles treatment under plans for expanded pharmacy trial

| James Coleman
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Sandra Ferrington behind the counter

Capital Chemist Kingston managing partner and pharmacist Sandra Ferrington has joined the trial. Photo: James Coleman.

A trial run by NSW Health has expanded to the point one in six pharmacies in Canberra now offer treatment for urinary tract infections (UTIs) treatment and oral contraceptive pill repeats.

And there are plans to extend it further to include treatment for shingles, dermatitis and other skin conditions.

The University of Newcastle is leading the trial in association with the University of Technology Sydney, Macquarie University, University of New England, Charles Sturt University, The George Institute for Global Health and the Hunter Medical Research Institute.

Participating pharmacies can provide treatment for uncomplicated UTIs in women aged from 18 to 65 years, and – provided they’ve been taking the pill continuously for two years as prescribed by a doctor – a resupply of lower-risk oral contraceptive (OC) pill.

Up to this point, these have required a trip to the doctor.

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In August 2023, ACT Health joined in along with five pharmacies including Gold Creek Discount Drug Store, Capital Chemist Charnwood, The Pharmacy on Petrie, PharmaSave Woden Pharmacy and Life Pharmacy Group Erindale.

The second phase, announced this week, brings on another 10 pharmacies “selected based on access for all geographical areas in the ACT”.

“Primary health care workers, such as GPs, are under high demand and often people receive care once symptoms have exacerbated,” ACT Minister for Population Health Emma Davidson said.

“The trial increases timely access to low-risk medications and treatment, giving more agency to women to seek healthcare sooner. This means quicker recovery, reduced pressure on primary health care workers and our hospitals and healthier people.”

Pharmacy sign

Since the service began in July 2023 to the end of February 2024, ACT pharmacies have delivered 433 UTI consultations. Photo: James Coleman.

It’s about ease of access rather than cost. The services remain “patient funded” and include a fee for both the consultation and any medications provided.

Capital Chemist Kingston is among the newcomers, prompted by years of having to refer people and being “never really sure if they then go and get that care”.

“We’ve been asked for many, many years to assist women,” managing partner Sandra Ferrington says.

“They’ve come into the pharmacy because we’re available and they haven’t been able to get an appointment with their GP, or it’s after hours. And we’ve unfortunately had to refer them to the Emergency Department or a GP.”

Hands hold a tablet batch

Pharmacists have received “refresher” courses on relevant medications. Photo: James Coleman.

A condition of taking part in the trial is that not only do the pharmacists receive a “refresher” on the relevant medications, but the pharmacies must also have private consultation rooms so women aren’t having awkward conversations at the counter.

“We don’t conduct these conversations at the counter at all,” Sandra says.

“We often have their medication profiles available to us as we have that discussion, so it’s a great opportunity to interact with the women.”

So far, the ACT pharmacies participating in the trial have delivered 433 UTI consultations from July 2023 (when the service began) to the end of February 2024, and 52 OC consultations from October 2023 to the end of February.

The average age of participants is 39 years old for UTI treatment and 26 for “the pill”.

Of those who received UTI treatment, 95 per cent of patients reported total or partial reduction in symptoms, and 98 per cent of those who met the criteria received a resupply of OC.

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ACT Health acting chief pharmacist Amanda Galbraith says these results prove it is “really important we continue to provide this”.

“We know women are accessing this trial. And that we do have women coming into their pharmacy and looking for help.”

The UTI trial is set to run until July, and the OC trial until September.

“At that point in time, we will consider whether we would expand further in time to continue this,” Amanda says.

ACT Health has also flagged a third phase, coming “in the next few months”, which will include treatment for shingles, dermatitis and other skin conditions. Shingles, in particular, requires antiviral treatment within 72 hours to avoid worsening symptoms.

Capital Chemist Kingston's Sandra Ferrington and ACT Health acting chief pharmacist Amanda Galbraith.

Capital Chemist Kingston managing partner Sandra Ferrington and ACT Health acting chief pharmacist Amanda Galbraith. Photo: James Coleman.

“The need to treat shingles in a timely manner is important, and that will be one of the conditions involved in the trial that’s expected to roll out in late April,” Amanda says.

“It just depends on how long it takes for all the pharmacists to complete their training and their induction into the clinical trial.”

The government is also amending the ‘ACT Pharmacist Vaccination Standards’ to allow Canberrans, depending on their age, to receive advice and vaccines for hepatitis A and B, poliomyelitis, typhoid and herpes zoster (shingles) without a prescription “within the month”.

In the ACT, people can also receive free treatment for uncomplicated UTIs at a nurse-led walk-in centre.

For now, the new pharmacies include Chemist Warehouse Gungahlin, Priceline Pharmacy Belconnen, Terry White Chemmart Compounding Ainslie, University Pharmacy ANU, Capital Chemist Kingston, The Pharmacy on Franklin Manuka, Cooleman Court Pharmacy, Capital Chemist Southlands, Capital Chemist Calwell and Life Pharmacy Group Lanyon.

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Capital Retro8:06 pm 11 Mar 24

I hope it works better than the one they had about 10 years ago.

My mother was eligible to receive a free shingles vaccine, yet when I enquired it would cost around $600 🙁

We could avoid the need for much shingles treatment if only the government would provide enough of the vaccine so we could be immunised. No point lowering the age of free vaccination, if the vaccine is unavailable as it is now!!!!!

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