More than 10,000 spared GP visit under new trials

Luke Costin |

Women running short on the contraceptive pill have jumped at new trials loosening restrictions.
Women running short on the contraceptive pill have jumped at new trials loosening restrictions.

Women running short on the contraceptive pill have jumped at new trials loosening restrictions that forced them into busy GP clinics.

The trials in Victoria, NSW and the ACT began in late 2023 and allow eligible women already prescribed the pill to get up to one year’s supply from trained pharmacists, without needing a GP visit.

More than 800 Victorians and in excess of 600 in NSW/ACT have taken up the opportunity in the first few months, the respective governments have told AAP.

That is in addition to the 8770 women who have received treatment in NSW and the ACT for uncomplicated urinary tract infections since a similar trial began in May.

More than 1600 pharmacies are participating across the two states and ACT, with similar trials due to begin in Queensland and South Australia in 2024.

Tasmania and Western Australia have also recently moved to allow women to access an “emergency” one-month supply.

There was a need to improve patients’ timely access to contraceptives, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia said.

“It’s up to us as health professionals to work hand in glove to do this safely and effectively,” society president Associate Professor Fei Sim told AAP.

“By allowing pharmacists to provide a repeat supply of oral contraceptive, we’re able to balance patient convenience with the opportunity for intervention where needed.

“This is about empowering patients to make decisions in their own care, accessing it when and where they need it.”

Fei Sim stands in white jacket in front of trees
Timely access to contraceptives needs to be improved, Dr Fei Sim says. (HANDOUT/PHARMACEUTICAL SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA)

It was becoming more difficult to access a GP, let alone one that bulk bills, NSW Health Minister Ryan Park said. 

“By enabling pharmacists to dispense these medicines, we are clearing the way for those who need to access GPs the most,” he said.

“This is part of our broader effort to relieve the pressure on our GPs, which includes the rollout of 25 urgent care clinics across the state.”

Critics, however, say the trial blurs the line between prescriber and dispenser. 

A two-year North Queensland pilot that spurred the current statewide trials was criticised by doctors after hundreds of patients reportedly suffered complications from misdiagnosis of a UTI.

Misdiagnosis was most commonly sexually transmitted infections, according to an Australian Medical Association survey of doctors.

To enrol in the NSW contraceptive pill trial, women must be aged 18 to 35 and use a low-risk contraceptive pill, primarily to prevent pregnancy.

Those using it to stop acne or other conditions or wanting to change the type of pill still need to visit their GP.

Victoria allows women from 16 to 50 to enrol in its contraceptive pill trial.