Queensland buries pharmacy pilot FOI requests for 256 days – and counting

Matt Woodley

9/12/2022 5:53:55 PM

The government department has been accused of hiding information related to the north Queensland pharmacy prescribing pilot.

Locked files.
RACGP leadership say Queensland Health has ‘stonewalled’ attempts at transparency related to the pharmacy prescribing pilot.

On 28 March 2022, the RACGP lodged a right to information request seeking documents related to the upcoming North Queensland Retail Pharmacy Scope of Practice Pilot.
As part of the request, the college sought access to Queensland Health meeting agendas, papers and minutes, as well as any correspondence and budget documents concerning the pilot.
Under the Right to Information Act 2009 (RTI Act), RTIs have a specified processing period of 25 business days (35 days if consultation with third parties is required).
However, extensions can also occur at the request of the agency or minister with the agreement of the applicant, which Queensland Health sought – on eight separate occasions.
As a consequence, it is now 256 days since the RACGP first lodged its request, during which time 178 working days have passed, but as of yet no documents of any kind related to the RTI have been produced. It is a similar story with separate college RTI requests related to the Urinary Tract Infection Pharmacy Pilot – Queensland (UTIPP–Q) – submitted on the same day – also not yielding any results.
RACGP Vice President and Queensland Chair Dr Bruce Willett slammed the delay, saying that patients and GPs deserve better.
‘This is unacceptable, what has the Government got to hide exactly?’ he asked.
‘We have gone through all of the proper processes and appear to have been stonewalled.’
Dr Willett detailed how the RACGP originally lodged an application in March, before receiving an initial ‘Notice of intention to refuse’ in late April due to the scale of the request. The department agreed to process a revised request, which halved the time period covering the RTI down to two years, but subsequently asked for an extension.
Then, in early September, following a number of subsequent extensions, the college advised the department that it needed the documents ‘as soon as possible’ and it would seek review via the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) if additional extensions were required.
Further extensions were nonetheless requested, a new Principal RTI Officer took over the application, and the college was told that the department was conducting further internal consultations.
‘Many emails were exchanged and phone conversations took place and on and on and on it went,’ Dr Willett said.
‘Enough is enough, this has gone on for too long.’
Eventually, when informed by the college that a further extension would not be granted, Queensland Health issued a ‘deemed decision’ refusing access to the documents on the grounds that the request could not be fulfilled within the specified time period.
In response, the RACGP submitted an external review request to the OIC, that advised the process could take six weeks due to the ‘high volume’ of external review applications.
As part of this review process, the department was granted a further 15 business days to make a ‘considered decision’ relating to the request.
Queensland Health did not provide any response to questions relating to why the RTI process had taken so long, nor why the information was being withheld.
The RACGP has previously cautioned that the pharmacy prescribing pilot will fragment care and put patient safety and wellbeing at risk. A number of other medical organisations, including the AMA, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, Professional Services Review, and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, have also voiced their concerns.
RACGP President and Mackay-based GP Dr Nicole Higgins said scrutiny on the pilot is needed now more than ever.
‘This is not rocket science. If due process has been followed then these documents exist, and it is in the public’s interest to know what they contain, especially as this pilot is the product of an election promise rather than responding to a demonstrable public need,’ she said.
‘This RTI Act application is especially important as it will hopefully shed light on these secretive arrangements between the Queensland Government and the Pharmacy Guild.
‘So far, the entire Queensland retail pharmacy expanded scope of practice pilot has been rubber-stamped without proper scrutiny and in a proper-functioning democracy that must change.’
The RACGP has no representation on the pilot’s steering advisory committee after it resigned its position in February due to serious concerns about patient safety.
While Dr Higgins said the college had ‘no other option’ but to step away, it means even less is known about the scope and design of the pilot, which places additional importance on gaining access to the RTI documents.
‘The entire scheme is very murky,’ she said.
‘We want to know why the Government settled on this election promise, why it is deemed necessary, what communications occurred with the Pharmacy Guild and other groups, what research and evidence was considered, whether potential risks were properly assessed and addressed, how it was designed and how much money is being spent from the public purse.
‘Without these answers, we really are flying blind.’
Despite countless warnings that the experiment will result in poorer health outcomes for patients and much higher healthcare costs, several other jurisdictions, including Victoria and NSW, have forged ahead with their own pharmacy prescribing plans.
However, detail on these schemes is also lacking.
Dr Higgins says the general public ‘deserves better’.
‘In this day and age, it really is worrying to see how taxpayer funds can be spent, with little to no transparency or accountability,’ she said.
‘There really should be checks and balances in place to ensure that public funds are delivering on community need and being used wisely.’
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Dr Stewart James Jackson   10/12/2022 7:35:32 AM

What do you expect when doctors won’t work! Pharmacists will be doing our job into the future because we have run away. I can’t get any new doctors in my rural clinic even though 200 are pumped out a year in Townsville just down the road. I am in total despair and these articles are really pathetic ignoring the bigger problems!