Our health system has been overstretched for some time – staff shortages, the continuation of COVID infections, and a health workforce that is tired and under relentless pressure. As part of the Government’s 2023 Winter Plan, a new service available in certain community pharmacies will help decrease hospital admissions by moving care away from the hospital system and decrease the pressure on general practice (GP) surgeries.
From 12 June 2023 until 30 September pharmacies in certain areas of the country will be funded by the Government to provide treatment for some minor ailments. This treatment won’t need a prescription, and includes access to some funded over-the-counter (OTC) medicines such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and loperamide. This scheme is called the Community Pharmacy Minor Ailments Service (MAS). The aim of the MAS is to improve access for people unable to access or afford care for minor health conditions.
The scheme will not be available nationwide at this stage, with pharmacies offering the MAS in the selected districts of:
- Counties Manukau
- Bay of Plenty
- Capital and Coast
- Hutt Valley
- Invercargill (including Southland and Gore).
These are regions that are consistently facing challenges and are expected by the Ministry of Health to experience more pressure on their local hospitals during winter. In some areas of the country, it can be very hard to get an appointment with a local GP. Medicine cost can be a barrier for many people, and those that can’t afford treatment can only access medicines on a prescription or by visiting their ED department, even though the medicines are not prescription medicines. Patients often end up waiting in hospital emergency departments to be treated for conditions that they could get quickly treated for at their local pharmacy.
Who is eligible for the service:
The service is targeted to priority populations –
- Maori and Pasifika patients
- children under 14 years old and their whanau who are suffering the same symptoms
- Community Service Card (CSC) holders.
The conditions approved for the service are:
- acute diarrhoea
- dehydration (usually due to nausea and vomiting)
- fever and pain
- minor eye inflammation and infections
- head lice
- eczema and dermatitis
- minor skin infections.
Timely, quick access to treatment is key in resolving these conditions. If caught early, the condition won’t progress to complications. They are also considered minor conditions as they can be diagnosed and managed without medical intervention and managed by patients in their own home. If left untreated, a minor ailment can turn into something that can cause more serious harm and potentially would need more specialised care.
The pharmacy service:
Patients will have a consultation with a pharmacist, who will provide advice on the minor illness. If the pharmacist thinks a treatment is needed, the patient will get free access to medicines for the illness. Other family members who become unwell or are affected by the same minor ailment will also be able to access free medicine. If the pharmacist thinks the condition is more serious or needs more advanced treatment the patient will be referred to their GP or other health provider. Pharmacist consultations will be more convenient, at the same level as would have been provided by a GP, provide another option for healthcare, and are likely to be faster than visiting ED or a GP.
The scheme was successfully trialled in the Hutt Valley and showed that patients were able to be seen quickly by pharmacists, taking pressure off other parts of the health system.
The MAS will run for four months over winter and then will be evaluated by the Ministry of Health for effectiveness. There is potential for the scheme to carry on and further health conditions to be added to the list of those available for funded treatment.
Make the most of your local pharmacist. They are a wonderful source of health information and advice. Pharmacists can be your first port of call for help with a minor condition and this winter you may be able to access free treatment if the MAS is funded where you live.