Pharmacy attacked over King Review financial survey

A CHF spokesperson writing in the Guardian has taken aim at the Pharmacy Guild as media pile-on continues

Communications Director for the Consumers Health Forum Mark Metherell has penned a piece in The Guardian which criticises the Pharmacy Guild, saying it “discouraged members to participate in a government survey”.

“This lack of transparency is troubling for consumers and taxpayers,” he writes in his article titled, ‘Shrouded in secrecy: the Pharmacy Guild resists deeper scrutiny’.

The fact that Mr Metherell is employed by the CHF is not readily apparent unless a Guardian reader clicks on his byline or Twitter handle.

He writes that a “crunch question” pertaining to value for taxpayers and consumers remains “shrouded” following the release of the King Review interim report, because the Guild discouraged members from participating in the Review’s financial survey last year.

The Guardian piece follows an article on this subject by journalist Rebecca Urban in The Australian earlier this week, Guild caned on pharmacy review ban, which was also critical of the Guild for discouraging participation in the financial survey.

The interim paper itself stated that the Guild “refused to support the survey”.

“In particular, the Guild recommended that ‘Guild members should be wary about participating in this survey’,” it stated. “The Panel is concerned that, despite the pharmacy sector receiving a significant amount of government funding, there is a general reluctance by the sector to provide this Review and, more generally, the Australian Government with the information required to ensure accountability and transparency for the public money that is being used to remunerate community pharmacy.”

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild today reiterated the organisation’s concerns about the financial survey as well as about the omission of Guild input from The Australian piece.

The spokesperson is quoted in The Australian as saying, “The Guild has sought to work constructively with the Panel, through direct consultation, the provision of information and a major 200-plus page submission, which was lodged in September last year”.

The spokesperson had also said, “Along the journey however, we have had cause to express concern about some of the Review processes, including its use of certain consultancy arrangements and its less-than-ideal approach to pharmacy data collection,” but this information was not printed.

“We did co-operate with the enquiry,” the spokesperson told the AJP today. “We had concerns about the use of the consultant, Deloitte, who were retained by Chemist Warehouse and also by the inquiry, so it was a straight-out conflict of interest.

“The survey was put to us for comment, and we said we had some concerns with it. Rather than address our concerns, they put it out to pharmacy.

“So we had no choice but to say to pharmacy ‘be wary’ because of this, and that it focused too much on revenue and not enough on cost.”

The CHF itself last week welcomed the release of the King Review interim paper, saying that “customers would win an important place in future negotiations about government payments to pharmacy owners and the services they provide” if a suggestion that broader input into Community Pharmacy Agreement was adopted.

“The only organisation which thinks the Pharmacy Agreement should involve only the Pharmacy Guild and the Government is the Pharmacy Guild,” Mr Metherell said in a CHF media release at the time.

“There remain significant areas where pharmacy owners, represented by the Guild, retain a favoured place as a result of the Government decision to retain location rules which will continue to protect current owners against competition in many areas, despite the stated option of the review.”

He criticised options to restrict pricing variations for prescribed medicines and for abolishing the $1 copayment discount.

Guardian commenters expressed a certain amount of confusion about these pricing variations, as well as the nature of the Guild itself, which was repeatedly described as a “trade union”.

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