Board questioned over discount model

“Punitive reactionary body” or an organisation with “a good balance to discipline idiot dumb pharmacists” while not making “life hell”? The profession weighs in on the Pharmacy Board

New data has looked at how pharmacists perceive their Board and AHPRA, with several members of the profession using the opportunity to question the discount pharmacy model.

AHPRA and the National Boards have released the results of their second annual survey of stakeholder understanding and perceptions of their role and work.

The report provides the results from an anonymous survey conducted in late 2019 of a random sample of registered practitioners, and an anonymous survey sent to a random sample of members of the public across communities in Australia. There were nearly 6,000 responses from practitioners and 2,000 from the broader community.

Both surveys were managed by an independent consultant.

Overall, the results show positive perceptions of Ahpra and National Boards.

Of the 342 pharmacists involved in the sample, 64% were metropolitan-based, and 51% had been practising for 20 years or more (21% had been practising 10 to 19 years, and 16% less than five years).

Nine per cent had had a complaint about them made to AHPRA or their national board, and 3% refused to say.

Meanwhile 71% had not been audited to check their compliance with the mandatory registration standards, while 22% had and 7% preferred not to say.

There were two respects in which pharmacists’s perceptions of the Pharmacy Board were significantly higher than the average across all professions – that the Board are regulators (the top response, at 50% – 10% higher than the all-profession average) and that the Board is fair (15%, 4% up on the average).

Only 9% said the Board was responsive, the same as the all-profession average, and 8% said it was accessible (1% less).

In 2019, 53% of pharmacists said they were confident that the National Board was doing all it could to keep the profession safe – in line with the all-profession average (52%) but down on 2018, when 56% of pharmacists felt this way.

When asked if they trust their National Board, 64% said yes, compared to 60% across all professions – the same as in 2018.

The respondents were also asked why they did or did not trust the Board.

Pharmacists said that the Board “don’t seem to have a bias” and that “dealings with them over many years has proven to me that they are listeners to both sides of arguments and always willing to help members of the profession”.

Another said that “they have a good balance to discipline idiot dumb pharmacists to protect the public and the profession and do not make life hell for those professionals that are doing the right thing to the best of their abilities”.

Of the 10% who said they actively did not trust the Board, one said it was a “punitive reactionary body that places silly expectations on pharmacist with no public benefit” and that punishments were out of line with those imposed on doctors and nurses for similar issues.

Another complained that the Board has “allowed the discount pharmacy model to take over, most pharmacists are now working under extreme pressure for peanuts, while they have stood by watching”.

One pharmacist said the Board was a “red tape” organisation which was self-interested rather than interested in the public or the profession.

As for AHPRA itself, 41% of the pharmacists surveyed said they believed the watchdog was doing all it could to keep the public safe, a drop of 7% on last year and significantly lower than the all-profession average of 47%.

In terms of trust, however, 59% said they trusted AHPRA (compared to 55% across all the health professions), up 4% from last year.

The survey also asked participants to offer comments about AHPRA and the National Board overall.

One participant wrote that, “I wish the PBA was a bigger voice in lobbying for the profession. There is a lot of apathy and discontent in the profession, and it feels like the head of pharmacy don’t care. Particularly in areas such as pharmacists prescribing, a statement was released, but no action appears to be occurring from the PBA. PBA should be more actively involved in pharmacists having more access to the MBS and also pharmacists practising in areas such as GP clinics and nursing homes. PBA should also be doing more to push against the “discount” model of pharmacy which is being promoted, which is at times putting our quality and professionalism to question.”

Another said it was a “dumb idea” to make two boards from one before, saying the Pharmacy Board was good enough and that introducing AHPRA has not helped the profession.

A third said that the pharmacy location rules are, “continually being exploited by some sections of the profession due to ambiguous rules and loopholes. Also, how can corporate pharmacy be alive and well while being illegal”.

The pharmacists perceived their profession to be trusted (44% – 22% more than the average across all professions), professional (41%, 6% less than the all-profession average) and knowledgeable (40%, 10% more than the all-profession average.

However they perceived pharmacists to be less compassionate and empathetic than members of other professions (14%, 10% less than the all-profession average, and 11%, 11% less, respectively).

Only 3% said pharmacists were kind, 1% less than the all-profession average.

Read the full report here.

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