2016: a tumultuous year in pharmacy

It’s been a huge year in community pharmacy

Brexit, the return of the Turnbull Government, the election of Donald Trump and the death of a long list of much-loved celebrities have made 2016 a roller-coaster year.

If pharmacists in Australia were hoping that the roller-coaster would pass the pharmacy sector by, their hopes weren’t realised. Between the King Review, the codeine decision, the $1 copayment discount and issues around the supply of the new Hepatitis C drugs, it’s been anything but peaceful in the industry. We take a look back at some of the major AJP stories of 2016…



New Year saw a beginning and several endings: New Year’s Day, 2016 ushered in the unpopular $1 pharmacy copayment discount, which Health Minister Sussan Ley would later claim was being strongly taken up by pharmacies. (Of course, not everybody was convinced.)

Sussan Ley
Sussan Ley

On January 1, a number of OTC medicines were delisted from the PBS, including Panadol Osteo: the Guild called this particular delisting “a mistake” which would not lead to a lower cost for users, and warned that the delistings in general would hurt the most vulnerable.

Meanwhile, Whyalla pharmacist John Holds was named among Order of Australia recipients, the proposed Minor Ailments Scheme came under fire… and MedsASSIST was showing early promise.



Parliament passed the medicinal cannabis legislation which is seeing pharmacy play a vital role in its implementation. We heard from the Medicines Partnership, which said the PBS was already sustainable and didn’t need any more cuts.

George Tambassis
George Tambassis

National Pharmacies pharmacists went on strike over wages. Controversy began to arise over the $1 copay discount, with one mainstream media reporter claiming the Guild were “misleading consumers” (the Guild’s George Tambassis rebuffed the claims).

We were told to expect a decision as to the upscheduling of codeine by May. And AJP began to bring you pharmacy news more often with the expansion of our newsletter to a daily format.



A range of Hepatitis C treatments came onto the PBS in a move that’s been good news for sufferers, but fraught for community pharmacy thanks to massive cash flow issues.

The team from Pharmacy 777 Nollamara
The team from Pharmacy 777 Nollamara

The biggest event of the pharmacy year, APP, saw a great deal of foreshadowing, as Professor Stephen King told us all bets were off when it came to the Pharmacy Review, GBMA‘s Belinda Wood presciently told us to expect shortages and delistings, and Ian Strachan, chair of the UK’s National Pharmacists Association, asked “How can you invest or commit to your pharmacy if you don’t know if your future is secure?MedsASSIST began to roll out, and by late November it would be used in over four million transactions.

As always, there were some accolades. Pharmacy 777 Nollamara took out the coveted title of Pharmacy of the Year. “Innovation is the force that drives our business, our energy and our passion,” proprietor Swarup Afsar told the conference. McCarthy’s Pharmacy in Orange, NSW was announced by GuildLink as its 2016 GuildCare Professional Services Pharmacy of the Year and Jessica Cahill was named Guild Intern of the Year.

Later in the month, the Australian Pharmacy Council launched its National Credentialing Program for Advanced Practice Pharmacists in a move that turned out to be rather short-lived.



One of the biggest pharmacy stories of April came out of Britain, as a Guardian investigation uncovered pressure from Boots management to abuse Medicine Use Reviews, providing them to patients who do not need them or cannot use them.

Boots shopfront

Australian pharmacists were also under pressure, you told us: around 1300 pharmacists voted in our poll, with 61% saying ‘Yes’ to the question “Are you considering leaving the profession?” And as another 21% answered, ‘maybe’, it appears four-fifths of the profession were reconsidering their future.

There was financial pressure too, as concerns mounted over the cash flow issues created by the listing of the new Hepatitis C drugs.

At least pressure was coming off the PBS (if not pharmacies or wholesalers).



May was a month for pharmacy heroes and villains: former managing director and CEO of Sigma Pharmaceuticals, Elmo De Alwis, and former CFO Mark Smith, were sentenced for falsifying Sigma’s books and misleading directors.


Yan Chi “Anthony” Cheung was arrested for spiking a pharmacy assistant colleague’s drinks after she rejected his advances.

And pharmacist Malcolm Cosgriff and his partner Corrine Wassertheil came to the rescue of a seriously ill traveller on the flight back from the PSA Refresher Course, after he suffered a hypoglycemic event.

It was also a month to look hard at complementary medicines. Four Corners aired a controversial piece on the topic. Later, Amcal pulled naturopath advice, including on homeopathy, from its website after PSA CEO Dr Lance Emerson and Friends of Science in Medicine contacted Sigma to complain. An AJP poll indicated that readers aren’t too keen on naturopathy in pharmacy either. Nor is Ian Carr, who slammed the practice and said that “if it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny“.

And there wasn’t any good news for the hip pocket, either: turns out pharmacy grads are the lowest-paid of all.



June saw a range of good news stories: We spoke to one of Victoria’s new 24-hour Supercare Pharmacies ahead of its opening. PSA Victorian Branch President Ben Marchant administered the first pharmacist vaccination in the state. The second phase of the Guild’s Discover More, Ask Your Pharmacist campaign rolled out.

PSA Victorian Branch President Ben Marchant administers the first vaccination by a pharmacist to new grandma Kathleen Philip in Melbourne today watched on by Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy MP.
Ben Marchant administers the first vaccination

Jenny Gowan was named consultant pharmacist of the year. Philip Messenger and Kwi Lan Ng were named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, as was the PSA’s Dorothy Lucardie. Taren Gill was appointed to the PSA Board as its first Early Career Pharmacist director, while Joe Demarte was re-elected as President. And the National Pharmacies dispute ended peacefully: pharmacists at the group settled their workplace agreement negotiations, with rates remaining ‘well above’ the award.



July was a month for big news: first, the narrow re-election of the Turnbull Government and reappointment of Sussan Ley as Health Minister, as well as the election of pharmacist Emma McBride to the seat of Dobell; and second, the release of the King Review‘s discussion paper, which posed 140 provocative questions about the future of community pharmacy.

Playing Pokemon Go.
Playing Pokemon Go.

Location rules, Hep C meds, CMs and even the need for some schedules and Community Pharmacy Agreements were queried – and while the Guild welcomed the paper, it also said the existing community pharmacy model, “should be built on for the benefit of patients – not dismantled in the name of deregulation and economic theories”.

We learned that Australians consider pharmacists more ethical than doctors, medicines shortages continued to frustrate, and the nation briefly got on its feet and got some exercise during the Pokémon Go fad.

The month finished with the PSA16 conference, where Noel Fosbury was named Pharmacist of the Year, the Early Career Pharmacist of the Year Award went to Erin Nunan, and the Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to Broken Hill pharmacist Con Peoples. Joseph Foster was named Intern of the Year and Cara Kolopelnyk Student of the Year; and the issue of wages – which Lance Emerson called “the single largest issue facing the profession in community pharmacy” – came to a head.



In August, the outlook was gloomy. We got a look at the first publicly released submissions to the King Review: and they didn’t all cast pharmacy in a positive light.

Madeline Hills

Reports of Zika dogged the Rio Olympics. Chemist Warehouse lost its appeal against Direct Chemist Outlet. Pharmacies came under fire for selling CMs. And Swisse came under the spotlight for its ABC partnership.

Prescription overdose deaths continued to climb. The Guild’s David Quilty wrote in Forefront that pharmacist pay might not reflect pharmacists’ value, prompting another call from PPA to raise wages by 30%. And the Pharmacy Board responded to the uproar over CPD changes by reminding pharmacists that they had made several communications on the subject since October 2015.

But on the positive side, the FIP Congress saw the Health Destination Pharmacy Program, Professor Parisa Aslani and Professor Timothy Chen honoured; Epic Pharmacy was named in a national innovator list; and Madeline Hills did the profession and the Olympic team proud in Rio.



Submissions to the King Review closed on 23 September – and more became publicly available, from the AMA‘s stance that co-location of pharmacies with either supermarkets or medical centres would be welcomed, to a range of opinions on the location rules and on complementary medicines. Wages were an issue that featured time and time again. And the webcast early in the month saw participants ask tough questions of the Panel.

The King Review Panel.

Innovation was a theme in September: Dr Alison Roberts was named as the AstraZeneca 2016 UTS Innovative Pharmacist of the Year for her role in heading up PSA’s Health Destination Pharmacy program, while the University of Sydney announced its 2016 graduates would be the first interns to enter their internship year already trained and qualified to administer vaccinations.

And in a long-awaited announcement, the Government accepted most of the recommendations made by the Sansom Review, Sussan Ley announced.



October saw the AJP announce its 10 Women of Influence: as voted for by readers and with Debbie Rigby taking out the top spot. Nearly 300 individual women were nominated by 670 individual voters and the process highlighted their important work in continuing and expanding the role that pharmacy plays in the Australian community.

Debbie Rigby
Debbie Rigby

It also saw Terry White Chemists‘ and Chemmart‘s merger to become TerryWhite Chemmart approved, and the second tranche of Pharmacy Trial Programs announced. We heard that Ramsay Health Care had opened a central Melbourne pharmacy, and the Guild responded by highlighting the importance of the ownership rules.

Professor Stephen King flagged the financial review of the pharmacy sector. Research into non-dispensing pharmacists began.

And October was a month for endings: an era ended here at AJP, as we said farewell to Marie Ritchie, CEO of our owner, PDL, after 22 years of service, while the Australian Pharmacy Council decided to end the National Credentialing of Advanced Practice Pharmacists.



November was a good month for Donald Trump supporters, but a very bad one for some people with asthma and seasonal allergies. Eight people died and countless others were affected by asthma, some for the first time, on November 21 when unusual weather patterns caused an unprecedented epidemic of thunderstorm asthma. Melbourne pharmacies were in the thick of it, providing relief to affected patients while under enormous pressure and in many cases, with swiftly dwindling supplies of Ventolin.

Malcolm Turnbull

The event was the talk of the Guild Parliamentary Dinner the next day, during which PM Malcolm Turnbull backed pharmacist ownership, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said pharmacy was “not just a glorified supermarket,” and it became clear that the risk sharing issue – which at the time of writing has not yet been resolved – wasn’t going away anytime soon.

Some “common sense changes” were announced as the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2016 was read, including day of death dispensing and dispensing after disaster. The Pharmacy Diabetes Screening Trial was launched. And the UTS Pharmacy Barometer highlighted low confidence among the sector.

November ended on a high with the announcement of the Guild’s 2017 Pharmacy of the Year finalists. Best of luck to all of the finalists, who are all leaders in their field.



In December, the pressure’s on in community pharmacy, with Christmas shoppers asked by the SDA to be nice to retail staff. And there was no shortage of news this month either, as December kicked off with the news that Chemist Warehouse has entered a compliance partnership after back-paying almost 6000 workers more than $3.5 million.


One of the biggest stories of the year broke only days before Christmas: the TGA decided that Pharmacist Only and Pharmacy Only codeine-containing preparations would be upscheduled to Prescription Only.

The decision wasn’t popular among pharmacy stakeholders, with the PSA’s Joe Demarte saying the decision was a “missed opportunity” and the Guild’s George Tambassis slamming it as “silly”. And more than a few commenters pointed out that the upschedule won’t necessarily reduce abuse and misuse if codeine-seeking patients simply doctor shop instead.

Meanwhile, the Pharmacy Guild pointed out a conflict of interest for the King Review: the economic consultancy contracted by the Review to prepare an international literature review of pharmacy was the same consultancy that prepared Chemist Warehouse’s King Review submission. It warned members against participating in the Review’s financial survey, as well.



Changes to the NDSS are coming into effect. The Pharmacy Guild’s new membership model will begin from 1 July, as will the Health Care Homes Trial.

And with the King Review’s interim report expected to be handed down in February 2017, it looks like next year will be a watershed year for the profession. At AJP, we look forward to bringing you all this news as it happens in AJP Daily.

From all of us, have a safe and happy New Year.

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