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  • Writer's pictureFlow Australia

Bid to ease access to meds for women 'looming disaster'

A parliamentary inquiry has recommended women with urinary tract infections be allowed to access medication without seeing a GP, saving them time and money.

Women suffering urinary tract infections could soon be spared time, money and a lot of pain by accessing medication straight from the pharmacist, but the proposal has drawn scathing criticism from doctors who warn of a "looming disaster".

The change was recommended by a South Australian parliamentary committee that delivered its final report on Thursday after similar changes were brought in by the Queensland government. 

The findings of the inquiry aim to make treatment quicker and easier for women, as well as unclogging emergency department waiting rooms.

Labor MP Jayne Stinson chaired the committee and says the proposal will give women fast, affordable and convenient access to basic health care.

"This condition's really painful - and sufferers want to be able to relieve that pain as quickly and safely as possible," Ms Stinson said.

And she would know, having battled UTIs herself.

Ms Stinson said the changes will also ease the rising cost of living by giving women the option of a $20 consultation rather than waiting for a more expensive GP appointment.

While more than one in two women will experience a UTI in their lifetime, one in 20 men will also suffer from the condition - including former US president Bill Clinton, who was hospitalised when an infection turned septic in 2021. 

But the inquiry recommended against extending the changes to men, children or people over 65, because they are more likely to have a "complicated" UTI requiring GP assessment and testing.

The Australian Medical Association believes all cases should first be assessed by a doctor, not just "uncomplicated" ones.

"I'm extremely concerned because this is a negative impact on women's health," AMA SA president John Williams told ABC Radio.

"UTIs are not simple and prescribing antibiotics safely is a complicated process."

Dr Williams was concerned pharmacists would be more likely to overprescribe antibiotics or prescribe the wrong antibiotic, contributing to the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance that experts warn could lead to superbugs and the degradation of the broader health system.

"This is a looming disaster for health for us all," he said.

"Antibiotic resistance needs to be managed very, very carefully. In fact, the guidelines for GPs around UTIs have become stricter." 

Dr Williams said as a result of Queensland allowing pharmacy prescribing, UTI presentations at emergency departments had gone up by 50 per cent.

The inquiry sought to head off those concerns by recommending extra training for pharmacists, ensuring complex patients are referred to GPs and a two-year review on the rollout of the scheme.

The report also recommended allowing pharmacists to renew scripts for the oral contraceptive pill and examining 25 other medications that might be able to be supplied by pharmacists.

SA Health Minister Chris Picton welcomed the report, saying the government would closely consider its recommendations.


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