Audit Commission recommendations would decimate pharmacy and the PBS

Date: 1 May 2014

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia completely rejects the recommendations of the National Commission of Audit in relation to community pharmacy and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The Guild calls on the Federal Government to reaffirm its explicit commitments to the community pharmacy sector – made before and since last year’s Federal Election. 

The Commission’s recommendations in relation to community pharmacy and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme are a litany of economic rationalist ideas which would:

  • Deprive patients of access to medicines
  • Force many patients to pay more for medicines
  • Cause medicine shortages and rationing
  • Deprive patients and doctors of choice of medicines
  • Force wholesale closure of pharmacies with loss of jobs and crucial patient services
  • Reduce quality use of medicines by allowing the sale of prescription medicines alongside alcohol and cigarettes in supermarkets
  • Stifle and ultimately abolish the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector in Australia, with the loss of billions of dollars in exports
  • Hand over responsibility for the safety and regulatory control of our medicines to foreign agencies in the name of cost saving

While the Guild made a submission to the Commission of Audit, there was no further consultation by the Commission with the Guild or - to our knowledge – with any other group in the sector. We would have appreciated the opportunity to address some of the glaringly bad policy options proposed in the final document. 

The Commission’s attack on existing pharmacy regulation which underpins the model of pharmacy is misguided and would destroy a system which enjoys the overwhelming support of Australian consumers.  Community pharmacists consistently rate at or near the top in measures of public trust in health care professionals, and these recommendations attack the core basis of that trust.

The Commission’s support for community pharmacies within supermarkets betrays a gross ignorance of the role of modern community pharmacies in terms of being primary health care hubs, and must be expressly rejected by the Government – in accordance with a Ministerial Determination against such co-location which was first introduced by Prime Minister Abbott when he was Health Minister.

In his letter of support for pharmacists during the 2013 election campaign, Mr Abbott said: “The Coalition continues to support the model of pharmacies being owned by pharmacists to ensure community pharmacy remains focused to the needs of patients.”

In March this year, the Minister for Health, Mr Dutton, told the Guild’s annual conference: “I can, though, recommit to our election commitment that the Coalition will not allow the retail giants into pharmacy.”

The Guild expressly rejects the Commission’s assertion that “there remains limited retail choice and competition in the pharmacy sector.” Within the beneficial constraints of the PBS system, Australia’s 5350 pharmacies are extremely competitive on price and service.

In relation to proposed co-payment increases, the Guild urges to the Government to be mindful of the possible negative impact on health outcomes which can occur if higher costs prevent patients from taking medicines as prescribed by their doctors.  There is a danger that Budget savings achieved through such a measure could be outweighed by higher health and hospital costs in dealing with the consequences of people choosing not to take medicines as prescribed.

In relation to the cost of the PBS, Government expenditure on the scheme is sustainable, actually fell last financial year, and is now forecast to rise at a rate lower than GDP growth – negating the case for such drastic and destructive changes.

Media inquiries: Greg Turnbull 0412 910261

Contact: Nikki Watson

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Page last updated 03 March 2017