AMA says GPs best placed to advise patients on sexual health

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The Australian Medical Association (AMA) says it has told the TGA it strongly opposes any move to allow pharmacists to dispense oral contraceptive pills without a prescription because of the risks it presents to patient safety.

The TGA is currently considering two proposals to make oral contraceptive pills (OCP) available at pharmacies without a prescription.

AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said the association is strongly opposed to allowing oral contraceptive pills to be dispensed over the counter because pharmacists are not trained to properly assess patients for key risk factors or provide advice on other, potentially more effective forms of contraception.

“Taking the oral contraceptive is not without risks and it is best for patients to talk to their GP about which contraceptive option is right for them,” he said.

“It can take time and expertise to determine which contraceptive option is right for an individual patient and this is best done under the advice of a doctor because pharmacists may not know a patient’s full medical history and are not qualified to assess whether the benefits of taking an OCP outweighs the risks.

“In fact, an OCP might not be the most suitable form of contraception for a patient. For example, intrauterine devices and implants are more effective forms of contraception.”

Dr Khorshid said a pilot study in 2021 had found that 96 per cent of GPs had diagnosed a secondary health issue when an OCP prescription was sought by their patient.

GPs also conducted preventative health checks and discussed wider and more detailed medical and personal circumstances of the patient, including mental health.

Dr Khorshid said pharmacies are not an appropriate setting to discuss intimate details of a patient’s sexual health and their detailed medical history.

“Patients may face additional out-of-pocket costs as Medicare will not cover these services,” he said.

Dr Khorshid said any move to make OCPs available over the counter would further fragment health care by excluding the patient’s GP from involvement in their patient’s sexual, reproductive and overall health.