Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention - Speech - 3 November

Read Assistant Minister McBride's speech at the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia National Conference

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

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I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to elders past and present. I extend that respect to all First Nations People who are here with us today.

I acknowledge Tom Simpson, SHPA President, Kristen Michaels, CEO, and all the team at SHPA.

Thank you for this invitation – I’m pleased to join you in person this year.

The program conference program in 2023 is a rich offering of training, development and networking opportunities with topics which not only span the breadth of your work, but give a glimpse into the far reach of our profession, so well done to Kristen and the organising committee on pulling it all together.

Hospital pharmacists come into people’s lives at some of their most vulnerable moments.

In the blur of health professionals in times of crisis, or emergency, or psychological distress, you are often there.

You are there as an invaluable members of multidisciplinary teams, and if the conference program demonstrates one thing: it’s the willingness of our profession to work to the top of scope.

To the Queenslanders, thank you for having us in this beautiful part of Australia.

I’m not sure the average Australian would know where the cutting edge of pharmacy practice is in Australia right now.

But you could certainly argue it is right here, in North Queensland.

In hospital pharmacy, the Partnered Pharmacist Medication Charting Project began in Queensland earlier this year with the SHPA now the national credentialling body for pharmacists practising within this system.

Here in Cairns, I believe Cairns Base Hospital has recently become accredited to provide SHPA’s residency programs, which are incredibly important in workforce development, recruitment, and retention.

And in community settings, nearly 300 pharmacists in this region are in training for the Scope of Practice prescribing pilot set to commence in the new year, and many hundreds more for when the pilot expands to take in the entire state.

I have no doubt Queensland pharmacists will enter this trial with a keenness to demonstrate the efficacy of this model, and a commitment to improve the access and continuity of care.

We are talking about commencing, continuation or modification of prescription medications for up to 17 minor ailments and three chronic conditions.

It’s a modest prescribing remit but you are crossing a real threshold and fellow pharmacists nation-wide will be looking to see results.

The challenges of providing high quality healthcare in regional Australia demand that we find better ways of supporting patients and that we empower health practitioners to work to the top of their scope.

The Queensland Government understands this challenge as well as any, and I’m pleased to see them back this initiative so strongly.

You may be aware that the federal government, too, has begun a major piece of work on scope of practice across our healthcare professions.

The impetus for this came out of the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, but I think most people in the healthcare system already knew it was an opportunity before us.

The government believes we can make a real difference to workforce shortages and uneven distribution across the country by making better use of highly trained professionals, such as yourselves.

We want you to be supported to work as closely as possible to the top of your scope.

Professor Mark Cormack is leading this independent review, underpinned by extensive stakeholder engagement and collaboration with the states and territories.

In particular, the government has asked Professor Cormack to:

    • look for ways to harmonise reform across Commonwealth and state and territory legislation, regulation, programs and funding
    • identify examples of multi-disciplinary teams working to top of their scope
    • build the foundation for the cultural change needed to enable health professionals to work to their full scope of practice, and
    • drive reforms that embed cultural safety and multidisciplinary person-centred care as core practice for all health professionals.

The initial public submission phase has now closed but there is more consultation to come.

I know the SHPA will be active in this process on your behalf, and I thank them for that, because through their advocacy there are many good stories to tell and Partnered Pharmacist Medication Charting is one of them.

I saw this model in action in Tasmania earlier in the year at Mersey Community Hospital. And having completed countless Best Possible Medication Histories it’s easy to see how it flows through to improved timeliness, accuracy and quality of medication charting in hospitals.

Just as important, is the freeing up of nurses and other practitioners to spend more time on direct patient care.

This program has now expanded to most states and territories and continues to show positive results.

It has led to fewer medication misadventures, both within hospitals and following discharge, for many Australians.

A recent Victorian study showed that of more than 8,000 charting events in that state, including 800 newly initiated medications, less than 1% of charts contained an error.[1]

Further trials are on foot to expand this model in South Australia[2] where hospital pharmacists will be authorised to prescribe medicines as part of care teams.

In many ways these trials and evaluations show practical change occurring even before our formal review processes are completed, which is encouraging.

As government we will acknowledge these innovations and look to expand them.

Better recognition of the specialty skills many in this room possess has been a long time coming.

I know one area of focus yesterday was on mental health and staff wellbeing.

It’s vitally important that we grow our collective ability to identify and respond to mental ill-health and psychological distress – in our work places and in our communities.

There are many great workplace initiatives to support positive mental health and good workplace culture and I hope you found those sessions valuable.

In relation to patients, there is no doubt that rates of mental ill-health and psychological distress have risen in Australia, particularly in young people.

The latest ABS data says young people have the highest prevalence of disorder of all age groups, with 38.8% of young people aged 16-24 experiencing a 12-month mental disorder.

I have worked as a mental health pharmacist in a public hospital and I know how these patients present, often brought in by police or ambulance.

Clinicians in hospitals do incredible work – often to help stabilise someone in a time of crisis, or to help manage alcohol or other drug dependencies, or connect them with more appropriate services.

But we know full well the drivers of distress begin before the hospital presentation.

The causes lie most often in socio-economic factors – financial insecurity, housing stress, relationship breakdown, family and domestic violence.

Wherever you go, these issues hit poorer communities harder. People trapped in cycles of trauma or disadvantage with no way out, are far more likely to need mental health care and are far less likely to get it.

First Nations Australians typically experience the worst health outcomes in our country and, despite the fact that the referendum was not successful, our government is determined to turn these outcomes around.

Every measure to improve social and economic equity in our community is a positive mental health measure.

Tripling the Medicare bulk billing incentive, which comes into effect on 1 November, is designed to make primary care more affordable and more accessible, especially for children under 16 and older Australians.

Opening a network of 58 bulk billed Urgent Care Clinics is designed improve access to urgent care and reduce the pressure on emergency departments.

Across government, these initiatives are rolling out with equity as their primary driver – to reduce cost of living pressures with the physical and mental health benefits which we know will flow.

On 60-day dispensing, hospital pharmacists and hospital-based prescribers have embraced this change to improve these community outcomes and I want to thank the SHPA and each of you, for backing in this change.

As many of you know my pharmacy career changed abruptly when I was elected to parliament in 2016.

Since then, I have been proud to work as the only pharmacist in the federal parliament and, I hope, bring some of your collective expertise to bear on the decision making of that place.

It hasn’t always been easy. But the hospital pharmacy community has kept the faith with me – the SHPA in particular – and I’m very thankful for your ongoing support as an SHPA member.

Your recognition through the new Australian and New Zealand College of Advanced Pharmacy is incredibly generous and I wish the ANZCAP initiative every success in showcasing the incredible talent in this room and beyond.

Thank you again for having me today and I wish you all the very best for the remainder of the conference.

[1] Expansion of the partnered pharmacist medication charting model on admission in the General Medicine Unit — initiation of new medications, Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research

[2] Lyell McEwin Private Hospital

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