Guild executive director David Quilty has hit back at an article which claimed the government “totally squibbed” the King Review

In an Australian Financial Review opinion piece titled “Turnbull government backs pharmacies over consumers, yet again,” the Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett has written that consumers “will be the losers” from the response to the Review.

Health Minister Greg Hunt announced last week, during the Australian Pharmacy Professional conference on the Gold Coast, that the Government had released its response to the King Review’s final report.

The Government did not accept most of the Review’s proposals, including:

  • Machine dispensing in small communities without community pharmacies;
  • Relaxation of location rules;
  • The banning of homeopathy and segregation of most complementary medicines from the S2/S3 area; and
  • Forbidding pharmacies from offering different prices (beyond the copayment) for PBS medicines.

Mr Duckett expressed disappointment in the Government’s response, saying that the King Review was just the latest in a series of reviews which “invariably come to the same conclusion: community pharmacy is over-regulated, and a reduction in regulation would benefit consumers”.

“Just as invariably, the government response is to do nothing. Well, here we go again.”

He criticised the Government’s reply to the Review as a “do-nothing response”.

“Pharmacy owners, represented by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, are the winners: consumers and taxpayers are the losers.”

He attacked the Government’s “tepid support” for the idea of the PBS Safety Net being managed electronically, with no timeline towards making this a reality; its “rejection out of hand” of a pharmacy atlas listing opening hours and languages spoken (this proposal was merely “noted” in the Government’s response); and its refusal to relax the location rules.

Mr Duckett also slammed the decision over dispensing fees, on which the three panel members were divided – Bill Scott dissented from proposals offered by Professor Stephen King and the Consumer Health Forum’s Jo Watson.

“The majority view was that government payment to pharmacies should be based on a ‘best practice pharmacy’, and that pharmacies adopt a common accounting framework – which would make it easier for governments to understand just how profitable community pharmacies are,” he writes.

“Yet even these seemingly innocuous recommendations were too much for the pharmacy owners.

“It seems the industry does not want future pharmacy pricing to be more transparent and evidence-based.

“Why not? Because increased transparency would strike at the core of pharmacy owners’ power; policy would no longer be held hostage to the pharmacy lobby’s unsubstantiated claims that their industry is in dire straits.”

However Guild national executive director David Quilty has written to the editor of the Australian Financial Review to rebut Mr Duckett’s comments.

He says Mr Duckett’s claims that consumers and taxpayers are the losers from the Government’s response to the Review “could not be further from the truth”.

“On the contrary, consumers and taxpayers get great value for money from community pharmacy,” Mr Quilty writes.

“New life-saving medicines are listed on the PBS. Out-of-pocket costs for consumers are falling as medicine prices are reduced with the PBS the most fiscally sustainable part of the health budget due to the $25 billion in savings being delivered by the medicines sector.

“Consumers have real choice in terms of generic medicines and pharmacies are the most convenient and accessible health providers, underpinned by the Pharmacy Location Rules. Pharmacists are among the most trusted of professions with community pharmacies continuing to enjoy very high rates of patient satisfaction, well in excess of 90%.

“When it comes to pharmacy, the Federal Government has taken the very reasonable approach that when something works very well, why tinker unnecessarily with it?”