Bringing the pharmacists’ back


Is there anything we can do to arrest the relative decline in pharmacy pay rates, asks Peter Feros

In the first part of this 2-part series, Peter Feros discussed how a diminishing pharmacy workforce has been an unintended consequence of weighted average price disclosure.

Today, we focus on the consequences of these policies, and is there anything we can do to reverse the situation.

Professional Pharmacists Australia (PPA) annually conducts a wide-ranging survey of community pharmacy employee pharmacist paid rates. From these surveys the total of over-award payments made to community pharmacy employee pharmacists can calculated.

The total is in the order of $120,000,000 a year. That is the cumulative cost that the community pharmacy sector is able to pay, over and above the award, in order to maintain its workforce. And even this level of over-award payment isn’t enough to maintain the workforce, but more of that later.

In the lead-up to the initial implementation of WADP, ‘official’ pharmacy fought to explain and gain government acknowledgement that the rebates were necessary to fund the many non-remunerated services it delivered to the community.

But you need qualified staff to deliver services, whether they are remunerated or not. Clearly a substantial proportion of the rebates have helped to fund employee pharmacist pay rates higher than the ridiculously low award of $24.86 per hour.

The PPA annual surveys demonstrate that as the WADP cut into PBS remuneration, the rates paid to employee pharmacist dropped from $37 per hour in 2009 to less than $33 in 2015. That is a 10.8% decrease.

Put into context, to retain its purchasing power the $37 per hour rate in 2009 would have to be increased to $43.35 in 2015. That means the take-home pay of the average pharmacist during this period has fallen by $10.35 per hour or 28% in real terms! 

How have employee pharmacists responded to these substantial pay rate cuts?

More than an occupational hazard

Employee pharmacists are not locked into the community pharmacy sector and have aptitudes sought by employers across the economy.

Why stay in the community pharmacy section to earn even $30 per hour and 

$59,280 per year when the Australian average adult weekly earning translates to an annual income of $81,000?

Indeed, to offer an payment of even $30 an hour to a four-year university graduate – who takes the responsibility to ensure a person’s medication is appropriate and where making a mistake could cause serious harm, or even death, to a patient – in my view as a pharmacist, is an insult.

The reality is that many employee pharmacists are already leaving the sector. 

Employee surveys underline widespread disenchantment. For example, the 2016 AJP survey revealed that 61% of employee pharmacists were planning to leave the sector. The 2017 AJP survey had the percentage at 31% and perhaps this indicates a large number have already left the sector.

In December 1993 I went to an API Christmas event arranged by the late Ron Roland, a long-time CEO of API. He had invited W Mitchell (Christian name William but was best known simply as W Mitchell), a celebrated motivational speaker of the time, to address the gathering.

Mr Mitchell had horrific burn scars and was wheelchair-bound from two separate accidents. He had clearly endured, yet overcame, great difficulty in his life. The Christmas gift from his inspirational presentation was the message:

“It is not what happens to you in life that counts it is what you do about it.”

Do something about it

Heeding this advice I have emailed my local Federal Member of Parliament and the new Federal Minister of Health Greg Hunt and detailed the injustices incurred by community pharmacists.

To all the employee pharmacist who have expressed in AJP surveys their disenchantment at inequitable wages and conditions: do something about it by explaining your situation in an email to your local federal member and/or new health minister Greg Hunt. And why not get your friends who have already left to do the same?

How many pharmacist does it take to turn off the light? No-one knows because they have all left.

* Peter Feros is a pharmacist owner with interests in numerous pharmacies and a director of Ventura Health. 

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