Four new Physician Assistants (PA’s) graduated recently from James Cook University in Queensland.
While there has been a small cadre of PA’s building up over the years (50 in total), there has been no significant volume of them stepping in to fill gaps.
PA’s have been touted as the answer to doctor shortages in rural and remote areas and there are now renewed calls for government to recognise them in respect of funding.
The same person calling for their use in rural and remote areas (Professor Stephen Duckett) made the same call for using pharmacists in a similar role after the Grattan Institute published his paper on the subject, which was a proposal for fixing Australia’s health system.
It is difficult to see the justification for establishing another medical layer where they already have nurses filling such roles and now enabled to prescribe under special conditions. Some pharmacists also contribute their skills in doctor settings.
Given that pharmacy has provided and built up a network of widely dispersed “bricks and mortar investment” locations and has been waiting patiently for recognition of the primary health care roles already provided by qualified pharmacists, it is hard to support the call for PA funding.
They are not likely to be able to survive in rural and remote settings because, unlike pharmacists, they do not have infrastructure support.
Recent doctor antagonism towards pharmacists establishing fee paid clinical services is partly because they not only see pharmacists as competitive to PA’s, but also to themselves, because of the patient base already established in pharmacy.
Also, changes made to Medicare reimbursements for the 10 minutes consultations, have been slashed by nearly 50 percent, putting more pressure on the system.
Pharmacists already know of the gaps that are in medical care and are confident that they can fill the breaches.
Rather than have this happen, the medical profession will fight “tooth and nail” to prevent such an occurrence, and the fight will get “down and dirty” as only the doctors know how to strategise.
Of course there is no guarantee that new PA graduates will even be interested in practicing in rural and remote areas given the lack of interest by doctors for a very long time.