AMA ‘sat like a moo cow’ while GP surgeries corporatised: Guild

black and white cow staring at camera

An AMA state councillor has attacked what it calls the “open secret” of complex pharmacy ownership structures, as well as discount chains and alternative therapies

Writing on the AMA WA’s blog, state branch councillor Dr Michael Page has claimed that the Pharmacy Guild’s stance on pharmacist ownership – that it ensures maintenance of professional standards – is undermined by less-than-transparent ownership structures.

“Where the Guild has harmed the broader pharmacy profession, including its traditional independent pharmacy owner members, is in its silence and inaction on the rise of pharmacists who, through complex, opaque management agreements and equity structures allegedly hold controlling interests in tens or even hundreds of pharmacies,” Dr Page writes. 

“This has been an open secret in the pharmacy industry for decades, but is rarely identified in official reports.”

He wrote that the recent review into the pharmacy sector in the state had “brought it to light”.

“The question becomes: does pharmacist-ownership guarantee the delivery of a high-quality service when a Western Australian pharmacy is (strongly rumoured to be) controlled by a likely non-practising pharmacist in another State who controls dozens of other pharmacies?

 “Further, if the pharmacy’s puppet master is purposely hidden, how can any kind of meaningful clinical governance be implemented to ensure the safe and accountable delivery of clinical services?”

Dr Page writes that the “de facto corporatisation” of pharmacy had facilitated “another phenomenon that the Guild has failed to meaningfully resist,” namely the rise in discount pharmacies.

“These often unprofessional-appearing, low-service environments further undermine the Guild’s arguments against deregulation of pharmacy ownership.

 “In addition, it is patently self-evident that unproven and alternative therapies have found a firm foothold in community pharmacies as a rule, rather than an exception.”

Singling out Chemist Warehouse, Dr Page said that while the discount giant’s interests were “not entirely aligned” with those of the Guild, it has achieved such influence in the pharmacy sector that it has begun to lobby the Government to relax the location rules.

“Such changes would represent an existential threat to many of the Guild’s members, who would face stiff competition from Chemist Warehouse outlets opening in their immediate vicinities, and would diminish the Guild’s standing,” writes Dr Page.

 “These trends in the pharmacy industry have been a slap in the face to many hard-working, professional employed pharmacists who increasingly face poor working conditions and uncertain futures, as well as those independent pharmacy owners attempting to deliver high-quality pharmaceutical services.”

These trends undermine the credibility of pharmacy when it comes to the delivery of expanded clinical services, Dr Page claims.

“The Pharmacy Guild may ultimately have cause to regret its inaction on the degradation of professionalism in community pharmacy.”

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild told the AJP that the organisation believes the pharmacy ownership laws in all States and Territories should be rigorously enforced because they are in the best interests of consumers. 

“Far from being complacent about pharmacy ownership laws, the Guild urges all jurisdictions to ensure those laws are enforced,” the spokesperson said.

“The pity for the AMA is that it sat like a moo cow watching the passing traffic as medical practices all over Australia have been corporatised – reducing levels of service, and condemning many GPs to be mere cogs in the corporate wheel.”

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