‘Are we upping the ante now to generate publicity?’

hand out for money - coins in palm

A leading pharmacist has criticised former ACCC chief Graeme Samuel’s latest attack on the community pharmacy sector

In the latest of a series of criticisms of the regulations governing community pharmacy, Graeme Samuel has claimed that some patients are paying more than five times more than others for standard antibiotics.

An article published in the Newcastle Herald, by reporter Joanne McCarthy, cites unspecified “figures collated by groups pushing the Federal Government to end rules restricting where pharmacies can operate” which state that discounters are offering better prices on standard antibiotic syrups than other pharmacies.

Pharmacies in Port Stephens, Singleton, Morisset, Belmont, Toronto and Cessnock were selling the unidentified antibiotics at up to 5.2 times more than a discount pharmacy in another location, the article says.

“If you go into a town and there’s one coffee shop and because of a lack of competition they charge $15 for a cup of coffee you’d be pretty outraged,” Mr Samuel, the former head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, told the Herald.

“If there was only one petrol station in a town and you were charged $4.50 per litre for petrol you’d be just as outraged,” he said.

“Yet because of these contracts between the Pharmacy Guild and the Federal Government that’s the case for pharmaceuticals.”

He said that a number of recent reviews into pharmacy have shown that consumers are “paying the price for the lack of competition” in pharmacy.

Mr Samuel has appeared several times in the mainstream media in recent weeks criticising the pharmacy location rules in particular and advocating for discount pharmacies to be able to open more outlets in rural and regional areas.

Anthony Tassone, Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president, told the AJP that the pharmacy sector already includes significant competition.

“When economists such as Graeme Samuel say there is no competition among pharmacies and that pharmacy is a monopoly—we say there is plenty of competition where the price is not fixed by the Government PBS scheme—and pharmacy is hardly a monopoly when there are around 5,000 owners of more than 5,700 community pharmacy small businesses,” Mr Tassone said.

“Claims that a particular medicine costs five time more in rural areas than in the city are just self-serving and misleading spin.

“There have been earlier claims of medicine costing up to three times more in rural areas – are we upping the ante now to generate publicity?

“While Graeme Samuel or his associates at Chemist Warehouse may be able to find an aberrant example here or there, there are literally millions of cases of subsidised medicines being dispensed under the PBS across Australia with no such price disparity.”

Mr Tassone said that more than 60% of all prescription medicines dispensed under the PBS go to pensioners and concession cardholders.

“For pensioners and concession cardholders, the price of PBS is fixed so that no patient pays more than $6.50 (the co-payment), or in some cases $5.50 if a pharmacy-funded optional dollar discount is applied

“It is a curious thing that Graeme Samuel should take such a strong interest and devote so much of his time to spruiking his views on pharmacy regulation. In the interests of transparency it would be good to know if he has any pecuniary relationship with any pharmacy group, or is it just his hobby to stretch the truth on medicine prices in the bush.

“Like a rock n’ roller on the road, Graeme Samuel is touring the country side with what he feels is his one great track to play to anybody that gives any attention.”

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  1. Andrew

    Noticed in articles elsewhere the ubiquitous unnamed “Guild Spokesman” provides some quotes in response.

    “…AMA isn’t a regulatory authority and so has no standing in regards to pharmacists”. Neither is the Guild, so their positioning is equally impotent.

    Not happy with a non-pharmacist being so frequently the first point of contact and quote for the media. He’s consistently combative and deflecting and as someone with no training in pharmacy has no right to be providing this or any other type of comment.

    • Anthony Tassone


      Greg Turnbull has been a Guild spokesperson for over 10 years and has an incredibly deep knowledge of pharmacy regulation and related issues.

      He has the full support of our elected National Council – who they themselves are elected by our broader Guild membership.

      I personally don’t think this comment should have been published on the forum given it’s tone and directing critcism towards an individual who was not quoted in the article above. (ironically, coming from an ‘unnamed’ poster).

      Anthony Tassone
      Presidnet, Pharmacy Guild of Australia (Victoria Branch)

  2. Tim Hewitt

    Mr Samuels’ sudden and recent interest in Pharmacy is more than curious. When he actually was running the ACCC, and was something more than an opinionated commentator he took NO interest in the same pharmacy system that he had now decided is so bad for competition and needs changing. Is he just missing the limelight and trying to be ‘relevant’?.. does he have a book coming out?? and WHY ISNT the REAL ACCC interested in this issue? Further, when he was the ACCC he was highly critical of the colesworth supermarket duopoly.. a duopoly that made the same claims that CWH does today.. and that he know seems to spruik!!! What has brought about this ‘road-to-Damascus’ conversion?? Has he lost interest in golf?? I smell a rat..

    • Dr E Ackermann

      With respect to the issue of pharmacy location rules supporting a monopoly, Mr Samuels group reportedly (Herald News) collated data showing standard antibiotic syrups sold at chemists in PortStephens, Singleton, Morisset, Belmont, Toronto and Cessnock were
      significantly higher in cost than at discount pharmacies in other areas.

      Cessnock residents paid the highest difference during comparisons in August, with the standard antibiotic syrup 5.2 times more expensive than at a discount pharmacy elsewhere.
      Granted there are rules about drug costs – so how were these antibiotics so much more expensive? How does this price gouging exist? Surely this is an issue of concern for pharmacists?

  3. Geoffrey Timbs

    I read the article in the Newcastle Herald but it had no supporting information….. did anyone including the journalist check the facts or just grabbed a press release with shock power.
    From Yellow Pages listings Nelson Bay has 4 pharmacies including a Discount Drug Store, Singleton has 4 pharmacies including a Discount Drug, Morisset has 3 pharmacies, Toronto has 5 pharmacies with a Discount Drug within a few Kms, Cessnock has 5 pharmacies. The article intimates there is only one pharmacy in each town so therefore can charge x5 times due to a monopoly engendered by the location rules. Clearly wrong as there are multiple competing pharmacies in each town.
    There is no suggestion of price collusion only a unspecified suggestion it is somehow anti-competitive- if it was Mr Samuels should still have some connections in the ACCC rather than going to the press. Location rules have been around since 1990, curious it wasn’t a problem when he was head
    “figures collated by groups pushing the Federal Government to end rules restricting where pharmacies can operate” may have found one pharmacy charging 5.2 times more than a discount pharmacy in another location for a specific item but don’t say what the other 20 local pharmacies charged, doesn’t even give an average or mean, let alone list the cheapest price they found. I can only think that the 5.2 times price is a weird outlier but if genuine that pharmacy must be providing spectacular service to still have clients prepared to shop there with so much choice nearby.
    What a beat-up.

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