Equity goes out the window?

Claims that rural pharmacies have been experiencing shortages after an “unprecedented run” on PBS medicines by large groups

The Rural Pharmacy Network Australia (RPNA) has called for an investigation into what it says has been an “unprecedented run on wholesaler stocks of PBS medicines over the last 2 weeks”.

According to RPNA coordinator, Dr Katie Stott, major wholesalers received “massive orders from major accounts that emptied warehouses around the country and caused a majority of the highest volume PBS items to become suddenly unavailable” at some point around Monday 2nd March . 

She has called on the Community Service Obligation (CSO) Agency to look deeper into the issue as “we believe that order volumes in some cases were 6 to 7 times normal ‘beginning of month’ volumes and that such quantities cannot be justified on any public health grounds”.

“Our members have reported serious medication shortages including stock unavailability, orders cancelled by wholesalers without explanation and missing deliveries of PBS medicines following unconfirmed but credible reports of some large pharmacy groups placing orders far in excess of reasonable needs,” Dr Stott said. (click here for our previous story on shortages in rural pharmacies)

“No one seems to be denying that there has been an unprecedented spike in buying. If it was consumer demand, there would be a corresponding spike in PBS prescriptions dispensed preceding the big buys.

The PBS and the CSO are meant to ensure equity of access to PBS medicines for all Australians but clearly on this occasion that hasn’t happened”.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has confirmed there have been some “temporary” shortages due to over ordering.

In a statement, the TGA said: “In response to COVID-19, the TGA is aware that some pharmacists have been over-ordering medicines, while many consumers have been over-buying.

This has resulted in some temporary local level out-of-stock situations, which we expect will resolve in the coming week or two. It is important to understand that a local out-of-stock is not a national medicine shortage,” the regulator said.

Dr Stott said “it looks a lot like the coronavirus crisis has been used by deep-pocketed players as an excuse to game the PBS – a vital national public health institution – for commercial advantage. That is something that should alarm public health authorities and result in a major inquiry and possibly even a complete re-think of how the CSO works.

It’s clear that on this occasion, the ‘first-in-best-dressed’ nature of the PBS wholesale distribution system has proved to be a vulnerability that has endangered PBS access in rural and some metropolitan areas”.

The TGA called on pharmacists “to avoid over ordering medicines, to help ensure that medicines are available to all Australians who need them”.

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