A law professor and privacy expert has warned that a “handful” of players could dominate the pharmacy market if the current regulations are scrapped
The AMA recently created a working group to lobby the Government to relax or remove the ownership and location rules; it is also suggesting that pharmacies could be owned by, and co-located in, GP surgeries.
In a piece in The Conversation, Dr Bruce Baer Arnold now writes that this and other suggestions around relaxing the ownership rules could have unintended results.
“Deregulating pharmacy ownership could enshrine the dominance of major operators and privilege a handful of health companies that already own GP clinics, private hospitals, rehabilitation and testing centres,” Dr Arnold writes.
“Relaxing ownership rules risks pharmacies replicating the corporatisation of health services, such as GP clinics and pathology providers, where corporations have numerous premises across Australia in the same way there is a KFC and McDonalds in all major centres.
“Just like GP chains wiped out many smaller, independent practices, such a move in pharmacy could spell the death of the local chemist, and the higher quality and more individualised care you receive.”
The AMA’s suggestion that GP surgeries could own pharmacies located in medical centres would risk speeding up a move towards “factory medicine,” he writes, “with customers processed as quickly as possible (with little time wasted on advice or empathy) and persuaded to buy goods such as herbal products or vitamins that most people don’t need”.
In the leadup to the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement, public debate about the pharmacy location and ownership rules is important, he says, as is discussion about potential consequences of any changes.
If ownership rules were completely scrapped, pharmacists would find themselves in the position of having to resist pressure from corporate owners to sell products with no evidence base, such as homeopathic products, and public trust would be risked, Dr Arnold writes.
He also queries former ACCC boss Graeme Samuel’s suggestion that small towns could have one store with combined services, such as a pharmacy, bank and post office.
This “makes a nice soundbite but the reality could be very different,” he says.
A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild said, “How refreshing to read some sensible comments about the merits of pharmacist ownership of pharmacies, and the perils of dismantling it in the name of an economic theory.”