SA pharmacists to support mental health patients

More than 1000 South Australian pharmacists will be trained to support people experiencing mental ill health, as part of a $350,000 state government election promise to ease pressure on hospital emergency departments.

Apr 18, 2023, updated Apr 19, 2023
Photo: AAP/Paul Miller

Photo: AAP/Paul Miller

SA Health and the state’s chief pharmacist have tasked the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia with delivering mental health first aid training to at least 1000 community pharmacists and pharmacy staff working across metropolitan and regional South Australia.

The society was chosen to deliver the face-to-face and online training following a competitive procurement process, with the program to cost the state government $350,000 over four years.

Pharmacists will be taught to identify the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and substance abuse.

They will also be taught skills to support people experiencing a mental health problem, including referring patients to other services.

According to the state government, about one in five adults will experience mental illness in any given year.

The percentage of people presenting to South Australian hospital emergency departments with mental health or behavioural problems is the highest in the country, with 75 presentations per day in 2020-21 – up from 65 in 2016-17.

“Community pharmacy is often the first point of access to health care for many people, with pharmacists being in a unique position to help address some immediate mental health needs and assist South Australians with accessing the care they need, outside of an ED,” Health Minister Chris Picton said.

“Appropriately up-skilling our pharmacists to deliver high quality and safe care means pharmacists and pharmacy staff can identify early warning signs of mental ill health that may otherwise go unnoticed and undiagnosed.”

The training will be delivered by Pharmaceutical Society of Australia pharmacists who are accredited trainers in mental health first aid.

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The society’s education, training and knowledge development general manager Kerri Barwick said pharmacists could help identify patients who do not proactively seek help and could “fall through the cracks”.

“Community pharmacists are out in the community every single day talking to patients about their health and wellbeing,” she said.

“Talking about mental health as part of that discussion will allow us to provide support and referrals to mental health specialists where necessary.”

It comes after SA Health in February started searching for three pharmacies willing to stay open around the clock from July, under a separate state government election promise to ease pressure on hospital emergency departments.

Tender documents released by the department last month called for expressions of interest from pharmacy services in Adelaide’s north, south and centre, with all three businesses to receive a combined total of $900,000 over three years to extend their hours, including on public holidays.

InDaily reported earlier this month that at least 30 community pharmacies across regional and metropolitan South Australia would receive $250,000 of state government funding over four years to stock six different types of palliative care medicines, to avoid terminally-ill patients having to present to emergency departments.

The state government has also committed $1 million for medication reviews on discharge and $150,000 to improve testing and antiviral treatments for respiratory illnesses to help reduce pressure on hospital services.

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