Pathology company Sonic Healthcare has bowed to pressure from GPs, withdrawing its blood testing kits from pharmacies one week after the roll-out began.

The backlash had been swift and fierce following the introduction of pathology screening tests into more than 100 Amcal chemists last week, with the Australian Medical Association describing the move as “opportunistic and wasteful”, and pharmacists as inadequately trained.

“We have been watching the continuous march of pharmacy into areas beyond its traditional scope of practice into areas such as vaccinations. This move goes too far,” AMA Vice President Dr Tony Bartone said.

“This is more than worrying – it is opportunistic, wasteful and bordering on irresponsible. It makes absolutely no sense on any level.”

In response, the head of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Dr Shane Jackson claimed the tests serviced unmet evidence-based needs in the community, and called on the doctors’ advocacy organisation to engage with other healthcare professionals with respect, calling for “comments from organisations in healthcare to be constructive, respectful and to not diminish the existing standing of healthcare professionals in the eyes of the public”.

The pathologists’ college weighed in on the turf war this week, claiming that tests are currently requested by healthcare professionals other than GPs such as pharmacists, dieticians, physiotherapists, podiatrists and dentists. 

“Irrespective of whether a pathology test is requested by a medical or non-medical practitioner, all test results provided by the pathology profession are utilised to assist in the diagnosis or management of a patient’s health in order to deliver the highest levels of care,” said Dr Harrison, President of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia, who is also CEO of Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology, a company owned by Sonic Healthcare.

Amcal pharmacies were offering pathology tests ranging from $25 for a HbA1c test performed in the pharmacy to $219.50 for a "comprehensive general health screening" of HbA1c, cholesterol, HDL, LDL, TGs, full blood count, iron levels, urea electrolytes, creatinine and liver function.

The screening kits did not attract the Medicare Benefits Schedule rebate, meaning patients would be out of pocket.

Sigma, which owns Amcal, was disappointed with the Sonic decision, claiming pharmacy testing was safer than the online alternative.

“This pathology program is about empowering and motivating patients to manage their own health, including better engagement with their GP,” Sigma said in Pharmacy News.

“Accessing these pathology testing services through a trained healthcare professional provides patients with a face-to-face contact able to help them understand their results – something that is not available through similar online services.”

According to data from the Department of Health and Australian Bureau of Statistics, 87.5 per cent of Australians saw a GP in 2015-16, and 55 per cent of people had a pathology test.

The AMA’s Gannon said today the announcement was in the best interests of patients.

“Fragmenting care by allowing non-medical health professionals to attempt to do the work of highly trained doctors is dangerous and irresponsible. It puts the health of patients at risk, and it increases the out-of pocket health costs for families,” Gannon said.

“The AMA acknowledges the highly valued and specialised role that pharmacists play in the health system, and the collaborative role they have with their local GPs. But the health system – and the health budget – are best served when all health professionals operate within their scope of practice to provide the best possible care for patients,” he said.

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