Recent comments by Chemist Warehouse’s Damian Gance could undermine the credibility of the profession, writes Paul Jaffar
The Inquiry into the establishment of a pharmacy council and pharmacy ownership in Queensland presents an opportunity for our profession to be further strengthened and better utilised, and it should be welcomed for the positive step forward that it is.
However, the opportunistic statements from Chemist Warehouse’s Damien Gance have the ability to cast an unnecessary shadow and doubt upon what is a venerable profession.
At the first day of public hearings on Monday, Mr Gance, together with Professor Stephen King, made assertions and statements about pharmacy ownership which are fundamentally flawed and unjustified.
This can be seen as nothing other than through the prism of commercial interest and ideology, and seeks to jettison what is a tried, tested and leading model of community pharmacy.
As the Member for Caloundra Mark McArdle MP rightly questioned during the public hearing, “what is the evil that must be overcome?” in relation to pharmacy ownership.The truth is that there is no evil, rather a model that has served the community well and enjoys overwhelming public support.
It is astounding that Mr Gance would claim that “many an argument voiced by those in favour of the status quo are truly grounded in self-interest”, when Chemist Warehouse itself supports deregulation of ownership laws to suit their own expansionary and commercial interests.
Additionally, derisory examples of professional misconduct do not reflect an entire profession, and must not form part of the basis of an argument that ownership rules must be removed for the sake of a few bad apples.
It was also telling that Mr Gance firstly called for complete deregulation, and when subsequently questioned about the ability of pharmaceutical companies being able to own pharmacies stated that this would potentially need to be legislated against.
There is a long list of valid reasons why pharmacist ownership of pharmacies is essential, and there are three that stand out most in my mind.
Firstly, a level of professional oversight and what is effectively an extra layer of protection for the public that is derived from a health professional being the proprietor of their own business cannot be underestimated.
A “fit and proper person” test would not replace an AHPRA registered health professional putting their registration and career on the line as a proprietor of a business.
Secondly, as we have seen in many international examples, a deregulated model leads to a focus on products and commodities rather than a focus on service.
The evolution of pharmacies into healthcare hubs should not be jettisoned in favour of what Mr Gance refers to as a “retail business”. Indeed community pharmacies are not ordinary retail businesses and medicines are certainly not ordinary items of commerce.
Thirdly, why anyone would want to give more power and market control to conglomerates such as Coles, Woolworths and Ramsay is beyond me. If the argument in relation to deregulation is increased competition, how can saturating an industry with corporates who have greater than 60% market dominance increase competition?
It would in fact stifle competition, in comparison to over 150 pharmacy brands consisting of individual small business owners robustly competing against one another.
The Pharmacy Guild, as well as other stakeholders, will now have an opportunity to be part of the Inquiry’s public hearings and it is vital that the disastrous outcomes that would result from deregulation are highlighted, and ultimately the role of community pharmacy further strengthened and the spirit of the law upheld.
Queensland needs and would benefit from a pharmacy council, and the key benefits of pharmacist ownership of pharmacies must be recognised, applauded and built upon not dismantled in support of free market ideology and commercial interest.
We cannot allow further unjustified and unfounded claims about pharmacy deregulation to be promulgated.
Paul Jaffar is a pharmacy owner and Queensland Branch Committee Member at The Pharmacy Guild of Australia.