Give pharmacists a fair go

A pharmacist holding medication in their hand while putting packets of medication on shelves

*Published in the Daily Telegraph on Friday 9th June 2023.

How much do you rely on your local pharmacist?

I rely on mine a lot. I’ll often head to them for advice before trying to get into a GP. But soon pharmacists might not be around to provide this help anymore. 

The Government has announced changes so people can get 60 days worth of medication in one go instead of 30 days worth. And on the surface, it’s a good idea. It means less visits to the doctor and people paying less for medication. 

But it also means pharmacies are going to lose money. The Government says the Pharmacy Guild is crying poor. But I’ve seen the financials. Some of these businesses won’t survive. And the ones that do survive will have to severely reduce opening hours, staff and services.

In the end, these changes will only hurt the patient. 

Regional and rural communities rely heavily on pharmacies to plug the gap left by doctor shortages. Free medical advice and delivery of medications are just some of the regular services we’ve come to expect. These services will be gone if this policy remains as is. 

And it’s not just those free services. A pharmacist in my patch of Tasmania services four nursing homes. They repackage medications for nurses to use. Currently they charge $10 per resident per week. With the loss of income, the pharmacy will need to up the charge for this service. The aged care facilities say they can’t pay more. So the cost will be put onto elderly residents. 

In the words of that pharmacist, without ensuring funding for these services “the system will rapidly collapse.”

We need a safety net. You can’t just rip out the bottom from community pharmacies and expect them to be okay. The consequences will have a domino effect on the entire healthcare system.

So here’s what we should do. The Government already pays pharmacists a dispensing fee through the Community Pharmacy Agreement. This fee should be increased to cover the revenue pharmacists will lose as a result of this policy. The amount can be assessed in a few years when the agreement is renegotiated.

It’s an important compromise. I’m urging the Health Minister to get back to the table on this one. If we’re trying to make things better for people, we need everyone involved to be on the same page. Not throw some pharmacists into a pit of despair and drive off without a second glance.