‘Bile and abuse’ against pharmacists: Tambassis responds


George Tambassis

Around Australia, hard-working pharmacists woke up this morning (18 March) to be kicked in the guts by a totally unwarranted torrent of bile and abuse from Janet Albrechtsen, writes George Tambassis, president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

People whose only sin is to go to work every day to serve their patients and their local communities to the very best of their ability woke up to be told that what they do provides “no discernible benefit to consumers.”

People who have mortgaged their homes to build a small business and employ people were told they were “part of a protection racket” and a “cartel”.

People who are struggling to keep their pharmacies afloat and keep their doors open because of massive government cuts, were told that they “remain exempt from the realities of the market.”

People who deliver medicines in the middle of the night to keep frail nursing home patients out of hospital or even to people’s homes on Christmas Day without any payment or recognition, were told they are “greedy” and are “vested interests gouging the public purse”.

However, the tens of thousands of good men and women in community pharmacy can be comforted that no amount of cheap name calling and abuse can ever substitute for the facts.

Yes, there are regulations – called location rules – that ensure that pharmacies are equitably distributed around Australia and do not cluster, like doctors’ surgeries in affluent inner suburbs, at the expense of the poor and the sick in disadvantaged and rural communities.

Last year, a national geo-spatial analysis conducted by MacroPlan Dimasis found that pharmacies are more accessible than supermarkets, banks and medical centres, including for the elderly (less mobile) and low socio-economic communities.

The analysis found that pharmacy access, including in regional areas, provides a high degree of choice for consumers.

Most importantly, this very high level of accessibility is achieved at a significantly lower ‘bricks and mortar’ cost than the other services as a direct result of the location rules.

Ms Albrechtsen dislikes pharmacies being owned by pharmacists and is determined to hand them over to the supermarket duopoly, those well-known bastions of competition who will never have a skerrick of credibility in healthcare as long as they continue to profit from selling cigarettes.

However, she is in a very small minority. Time and again, consumer surveys find that the customer satisfaction ratings of pharmacies exceed 90%t. Pharmacists are always in the top handful of most trust professions and, dare I say, at the opposite end of the scale to journalists. Certainly, not the result one would expect for people that are “rotten” and “gouging” and put their own self-interest over “customers and taxpayers”.

Late last year, as part of its submission to the Competition Policy Review, the Guild commissioned the Institute for Choice at the University of Adelaide to undertake a qualitative survey of consumer preferences for community pharmacy relative to alternative models of service delivery.

This analysis confirmed that 89% of consumers trust their local pharmacists very highly or completely. Two-thirds of respondents supported the principle that professionals like pharmacists should own the businesses they work in. There was a stark contrast between pharmacies and supermarkets in terms of trust, quality of service and managing patients’ health information.

A cost-benefit analysis, based on empirical evidence and conducted by Professor Henry Ergas and his team, showed conclusively that repealing the rules around pharmacy would massively reduce community welfare by up to $726 million.

It is particularly galling for pharmacies to wake up to Ms Albrechtsen’s column at a time when pharmacy businesses are under more financial stress than ever before, due predominantly to huge cuts in PBS remuneration.

Pharmacies are facing an average reduction in their bottom line of around $90,000 this financial year because of these cuts – which are ongoing – forcing many to reduce opening hours, curtail services and shed staff.

Peter Saccasan, a chartered accountant specialising in the pharmacy industry wrote this week: “Most owners make a return that is no different or earned from any less hard work than the thousands of other small businesses that employ people and who look after their local communities.”

Ms Albrechtsen is entitled to her opinion, no matter how ill-informed and prejudiced, but she is not entitled to outright errors.

It is incorrect to claim the Guild received $5.8 million to “fund its communications strategy.” The funding referred to was directed exclusively to support the Agreement programs, with the express authority and supervision of the Department of Health.

She also relied on the ANAO report to claim that the Guild was paid $29 million to administer professional programs worth $67.5 million. “At 43 per cent, that’s a nice little earner,” she said. In fact, total administration costs allocated to the Guild amounted to 3 per cent which is well below the accepted administrative cost ratio across government departments generally.

These errors need to be corrected if Ms Albrechtsen has any journalistic integrity.

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8 Comments

  1. Ahmed
    20/03/2015

    The Pharmacy Guild has never stood by the employee pharmacists side. They only serve the benefits of Pharmacy owners ! Now when they are under attack from the public , they talk on behalf of all pharmacists as a unity ?! What a shame !

    • aham925925
      20/03/2015

      How can I like this comment??????????????^^^^^^^

  2. John
    20/03/2015

    You didn’t mention that the guild are trying to cut penalty rates for their employees .
    So I guess you want the support of the thousands of pharmacists that don’t own a pharmacy
    You don’t seem too concerned about shafting employee pharamcists ,so how about quitting with the bleeding heart stuff ,at the end of the day you serve the interests of pharmacy owners only ,so I’d say don’t screw your employees and then cry foul about being called out for being self interested and greedy .

    • Ryan
      20/03/2015

      Spot on. Pharmacy will inevitably be deregulated, unfortunately it will be after ownership cartel has further driven the professional and clinical utility of pharmacists into the ground to extract every last dollar of profit, at which point the public and government will not be able to justify opposing the supermarket lobby any more.

  3. Gerry
    20/03/2015

    The Guild have always been pretty inept and without any backbone ,what about negotiating for a better deal for all pharmacists not just the owners,chemist wharehouse have destroyed the profession and what have the guild done ,bugger all.
    Now they cry about some negative press,but pharmacy as a profession has been getting trampled for years.
    Chemist wharehouse cut the guts out of pharmacy destroying profits ,where was the Guild then.
    You can stand up and criticise these journalists now but what about these guys owning all the chemist wharehouse outlets ??? How is it that they get around the pharmacy ownership laws of limited number of pharmacies .
    They’re the ones that turned this into cut throat business and monopoly ownership,but the guild says nothing !!!!

  4. Max
    20/03/2015

    Isn’t is strange that these sorts of comments in the press come around when there is a new agreement being negotiated! It is as usual kick pharmacy in the guts everytime.
    It is about time we started to charge the public for our services…we should receive a payment for every NDSS order processed, no more Free blood pressure checks, Diabetes checks,charge a decent amount for Webster packing, delivery fees and many others. Any other business would be getting paid a fee for these sorts of things. Where is the Guild and PSA on these important issues.
    Pharmacy owners should be paying their pharmacists way above the current rates for the workload and responsibilities being undertaken. Cleaners get paid at a similar rate!!!
    Lets wake up to ourselves.

  5. Roy
    20/03/2015

    Pharmacy is a profession of contradictions. There is indeed a sizeable proportion of hard-working, caring pharmacists whose primary concern is the wellbeing of their patients. Too many pharmacists, however, are driven by profits – patients come second. These pharmacists stand back from the ‘front line’ and focus purely on business aspects (to the extent that one pharmacy chain owner I’m aware of did not even know the indication for Crestor). They argue that supermarkets should not be permitted to own pharmacies so as to maintain the ‘distance’ between medications and commercisalisation. The regulators in the United Kingdom saw through this charade years ago, allowing the supermarkets to have their own pharmacies.

    When working as a pharmacist in a UK supermarket pharmacy I was impressed by the degree of professional autonomy that I was afforded. The employer respected the profession and provided favourable working conditions. Sadly, the conditions in some large Australian pharmacy chains are lagging behind.

  6. John Gibson
    20/03/2015

    Until Community Pharmacy shows that it DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE through well structured research studies it will continue to languish as an undervalued profession and attract attacks such as that by Janet Albrechtson. Hospital Pharmacists and, in particular, Ward and Clinical pharmacists showed years ago that they made a difference in health care through valid research studies and are now a valued part of the health team in all major hospitals. Community pharmacists need to do the same. It is not sufficient to talk the talk. It is necessary to walk the talk and that will require a major shift in thinking by the leaders of the profession. Away from supporting the lowest common denominator to setting out on a path towards professional rehabilitation.
    I suggest a RENAISSANCE OF PHARMACY CONFERENCE involving all branches of the profession to bring together all of the ideas for building a sustainable professional future and charting a path forwards achieving that goal. I know we make a difference but we have to show others that it is a fact and not a fiction that we put around to feather our own nest. I have spent a pharmacy lifetime believing in (I still do) and promoting our profession and I know that unless we make a collective commitment to change we will go on as we are now – in a continuing downwards spiral. Are we up for the challenge?

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