Doubling down

RACGP and CHF have called on the Federal government to rethink its 60-day dispense decision, but the Guild tells doctors to stop ‘meddling in pharmacy matters’

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Consumers Health Forum (CHF) have joined forces to call on the Federal Government to rethink its decision to put a hold on plans that would enable patients to collect two months of scripts in a single visit to a pharmacy.

The proposal, suggested by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) several months ago, was scrapped just before the 2019-20 Budget was announced after the Pharmacy Guild voiced strong concerns about the measure.

These concerns surrounded the potential impact of the measure on the viability of the community pharmacy network as well as impacts to patient medication adherence.

Meanwhile the PBAC had suggested increasing the maximum dispensed quantities on selected PBS items from one month’s supply to two months’ supply per dispensing would “allow clinicians to exercise greater choice and provide patients both financial and convenience benefits”.

In a recent statement RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon has argued the government’s decision not to allow 60-day dispenses for 143 medications was in the best interest of pharmacy owners, not patients.

“We are extremely concerned the government has backed down on a decision that was in the best interest of Australian patients, after intense lobbying by the Guild,” Dr Nespolon said.

“The Guild has lobbied for this change not because they believe it will improve patient safety and convenience, but because they know pharmacy profits may be impacted if 60-day dispensing was implemented.

“The public needs to be aware that when it comes down to pharmacy profits or patient benefits, the patient comes second to the Guild,” he said.

“We don’t want to see a positive initiative for Australian patients dismissed because it doesn’t suit the financial interests of one particular lobby group.”

In response to Dr Nespolon’s comments, a Pharmacy Guild spokesperson told AJP: “The Guild always acts in the best interests of patients, and supports more affordable medicines for all.

“However, the proposal to double quantities for some PBS medicines has been raised without consultation and without regard for the possible unintended consequences for patients in terms of quality use of medicines and for pharmacies in terms of patient care and contact, and pharmacy viability.”

The Guild pointed to a separate media statement released this week in which Dr Nespolon said: “As a GP for over 30 years, the last thing I ever want to do is turn away a patient because they cannot afford it, but if something doesn’t change soon that is going to become a reality.”

“It is a bit rich for the RACGP to talk about putting profits ahead of patients when they’ve launched a campaign threatening to abandon complex patients because they don’t pay enough,” said the Guild spokesperson.

“It might be time for the RACGP to focus on general practice and the impact of corporatised medicine rather than meddling in pharmacy matters.”

CEO of the CHF Leanne Wells said enabling patients to collect two months of scripts in a single visit to a pharmacy would be safe, practical and convenient for patients.

“This policy reversal takes little heed of PBS and the expert, multidisciplinary advice of the PBAC and is counter to undertakings from both sides of politics that PBAC advice will be acted on,” Ms Wells said.

“Pharmacy owners derive considerable business as dispensers of PBS medicines. Pharmacists also have widespread community respect.

“We urge them to display respect for the community and accept the two-month script proposal and recognise the importance of patient convenience and cost savings for patients. The Guild’s action dismisses patient interests and risks eroding optimal access to health care.

“There are built in Quality Use of Medicine safeguards to discourage inappropriate use or waste. Whether patients get a two-month script is subject to the prescribing doctor being satisfied that their medication is warranted,” Ms Wells said.

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