Ownership a foundation stone

Date: 8 August 2018

The fervent belief that pharmacies must be owned by pharmacists is the foundation stone of the Pharmacy Guild’s espousal of the benefits of the community pharmacy model.

When a pharmacy is owned by pharmacists, it is grounded in its owners’ obligation as registered health professionals and highly trained medicines experts to put their patients’ interests first – if necessary before profits or shareholder value, which are the driving motivations of any normal businesses.

It is this ‘patient first’ approach that is the fundamental underpinning of the high levels of public trust and satisfaction which are the hallmarks of community pharmacy and the pharmacist profession.

It is practically exemplified whenever pharmacists go that extra mile to meet the needs of their patients.  Delivering medicines after hours.  Opening early to meet an urgent need.  Providing trusted advice, counselling and support.  Finding innovative ways to address unmet health needs.  Helping patients through the maze of the health system. Being an active and respected participant in their local community.

Around the country, governments of all political persuasions recognise the vital role played by local community pharmacies and that Australia’s model of pharmacy is not only arguably the best performing part of our health system but also the envy of the rest of the world.  

This is no accident. In every State and Territory, governments have legislated that community pharmacies can only be owned by registered pharmacists.  This cross-party political support for pharmacist-only pharmacy ownership is not ideologically driven nor is it due to some magic hold by the Pharmacy Guild. Rather, it is because decision-makers rightly recognise that Australia’s community pharmacy system works extremely well and the reason it does is because professionally trained pharmacists who are obligated to put their patients’ first are directly invested in the system.

The opponents of pharmacist ownership of community pharmacy come in three forms.  

There are the ideologues who worship at the economic altar of the free market and unfettered ownership of all businesses.  Because it doesn’t suit their ideology, they deliberately misunderstand the unique market in which pharmacy operates – one where government is the funder and its objectives are driven by equity and quality, not just economic efficiency.

Then there are the commercial opportunists.  They see the opening up of pharmacy ownership as an opportunity for them to expand their businesses and make more money. They claim that this will reduce medicine prices even though the government sets the prices.  They are seeking increased market power, including the opportunities from greater vertical and horizontal integration in the medicines sector.

Last there are the perennially confused.  On the one hand, they criticise the retail role of community pharmacy, claiming that it is profit driven, but on the other they think that pharmacy should be opened up to the supermarkets.  On the one hand, they bemoan the impact on patient care of the broader corporatisation of the health system, but on the other they espouse the very same solution for pharmacies. Their arguments are inherently inconsistent.

However there is one thing that the ideologues, the commercial opportunist and the perennially confused have in common.  None of them have ever been able – and in most cases have never even tried – to produce the evidence to demonstrate that the open ownership model that they espouse will deliver better health outcomes for patients.  

The Guild will not allow the foundation stone of the successful community pharmacy model to be undermined.  We cannot have a situation where highly paid corporate lawyers and financial advisers are able to devise ever more complex arrangements in order to get around the clear and unambiguous intent of the pharmacy ownership laws.

The pharmacy ownership laws across the States and Territories must be maintained and enforced. Regulators need to have the resources and the expertise to ensure full compliance with the laws.  If there are loopholes that are being exploited, they need to be addressed.  There should be transparent regulatory oversight, both in terms of pharmacy ownership approvals and registrations, and the setting and enforcement of standards.

Otherwise there is a real risk that a community pharmacy model which has the overwhelming support of the Australian public will be whittled away by stealth.

Contact: The Guild
Phone: 13GUILD

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