Harper attacks pharmacy rules

hand out for money - coins in palm

The head of a recent pharmacy review has weighed into the debate over the regulations governing the sector, saying the location rules don’t serve the public interest

In the latest of a series of articles about the rules appearing in mainstream media, News Corp national health reporter Sue Dunlevy has spoken to the Dean of Melbourne Business School, Professor Ian Harper, who chaired a review into the sector in 2015.

At that time, the Competition Policy Review – often referred to as the Harper Review – recommended the removal of restrictions covering both ownership and location.

The Review found the rules were unnecessary for ensuring quality of advice and care for patients, and limit consumers’ ability to choose where to get their pharmacy products and services.

It was slammed by the Guild at the time, during which negotiations for the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement were underway.

Now, Professor Harper has told Ms Dunlevy, who has in the past written a number of articles critical of the Pharmacy Guild and the pharmacy regulations, that “I make the point the location rules are not in the interests of consumers”.

The new article cites data from a Chemist Warehouse survey which found three-quarters of residents in 18 rural towns in NSW want the location rules to be changed so that discounters can open pharmacies in these areas.

More than half the residents who responded have delayed buying their medicines due to cost, it says.

The new poll included 790 people in towns including Bathurst, Wagga Wagga, Goulburn and Broken Hill.

At the time of writing, a Daily Telegraph reader poll showed that of 61 voters, 82% were in favour of changing the rules “to allow discount chemists into rural towns”.

Chemist Warehouse chief operating officer Mario Tascone told Ms Dunlevy that “Neither side of politics is interested in upsetting the status quo because the Pharmacy Guild is the most powerful lobby group in Australia and is a big financial contributor to both sides of politics”.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for the Guild told News Corp that

“Most PBS prescription medicines are dispensed to pensioners and concession cardholders where the price is within one dollar of the designated patient co-payment, wherever the medicine is dispensed including in rural and regional Australia.”

The new article follows a June 2019 story by Ms Dunlevy which reported that 325 Victorian country residents had responded to a similar Chemist Warehouse survey which showed that around 60% of respondents had put off buying medication due to the cost, while more than 70% wanted a discount pharmacy to open in their town.

At the time, Guild national president George Tambassis called the piece a “misleading shameless beat-up which ignored the benefits of the community pharmacy model, the availability of generic medicines, and the safety net mechanisms of the subsidised medicine scheme, the PBS”.

In June the Guild said the location rules prevent the clustering of pharmacies in more lucrative areas with a high socioeconomic index, potentially depriving people outside these areas of accessible pharmacy services.

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