Signing off as a new beginning looms

Three significant events dominated the pharmacy landscape in 2020, says George Tambassis

In the first of a series of columns from leaders of the profession, Pharmacy Guild of Australia national president, George Tambassis, looks back at 2020, and looks at what may lay ahead for the profession.

What a year 2020 has been for community pharmacy – challenging, stressful and confronting at times, but also a time when our pharmacies have prevailed against adversity and provided inspiration to all.

There were three significant events which dominated the year for the Pharmacy Guild: the COVID-19 pandemic; the summer bushfires; and the negotiation of the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement.

Like all industries and all sectors of the economy and health system, community pharmacy was significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Pharmacies came under enormous pressures. The challenges included staff safety and welfare; patient safety and social distancing; severe medicine shortages caused largely by panic buying; huge pressures to continue staying open and serving patients; and then in many cases a sharp drop in foot traffic threatening the viability of businesses and jobs.

The responses by community pharmacy small businesses across the country were heroic. Community pharmacists and pharmacy assistants played a vital role in ensuring patients received their medicines and advice throughout the coronavirus crisis, despite risks to their own personal health, safety and security.  It is a matter of immense credit to Australian community pharmacies that their preparedness and quick response to the need for infection control, hygiene and social distancing swung into action quickly and effectively.

The bushfire season had a devastating impact across Australia. Homes, businesses and entire communities were affected. Community pharmacies played a critical role in the wake of these bushfires by continuing to stay open and offer pharmacist services.

George Tambassis signs off on the 7CPA

Getting an agreement

The Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement was signed in Canberra on 11 June 2020, providing some much needed certainty for the pharmacy sector.

Key features of the $18.3 billion Agreement included:

  • Dispensing remuneration increased by 9 per cent over the five years.
  • Increased investment in regional, rural and remote areas through a restructuring of the Rural Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance.
  • New funding to enhance the Closing the Gap PBS Co-payment measure.
  • Expanding patient access to Dose Administration Aids.

As all pharmacy owners know, the demand for influenza vaccination in the 2020 season was extremely high and largely unforeseen. The strong focus on flu vaccination by so many Australians – and convenient access through local pharmacies – led to a high level of herd immunity and contributed towards a very moderate influenza rate in 2020.

Of course, in 2021 the emergence of a COVID-19 vaccine will present a significant logistical challenge for our health system, and it makes sense that pharmacies will play a role in administering the vaccine to the Australian public.

Next year we will also see the implementation of some of the changes agreed in 7CPA, ensuring it will be a year of innovation and new challenges for community pharmacy – but hopefully not as drastic as those we have seen in 2020.


A looming farewell

I will be stepping down as National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia in the first half of 2021.

Reflecting on the role of the past seven years, I would say it has been very demanding, but also rewarding. In particular, I have cherished the opportunity to meet so many Guild Members around the country.

Community pharmacy is a dynamic and trusted industry doing great work for all Australians, and it has been so good to lead the Guild during a period in which we have broadened the role of our pharmacists and staff in the interests of patients.

I wish all candidates in the current Guild elections well, and know that the tradition of community pharmacists giving their time and commitment to the objectives of the Pharmacy Guild is in good hands, and will continue to benefit all Australian patients through advocacy and service.

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