Another expert has taken aim at the Pharmacy Guild, asking “where its power comes from”
Writing in The Conversation, Lesley Russell, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney, asked the question: “What is the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and why does it wield so much power?”
Noting the upcoming expiration date of the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement and the fact that the Seventh is now in negotiation, Dr Russell says that “the Pharmacy Guild’s key focus is the financial sustainability of community pharmacy”.
“Over the years they’ve sought to protect pharmacists’ income generated from the PBS (between 41% and 46% of their total income, depending on location),” she writes.
She claims that the Guild was able to “coerce” the Government into providing $210 million in the 2017-18 Budget, “as compensation for lower than forecast prescription volumes”.
At the time of this Budget, then Guild executive director David Quilty responded to mainstream media criticism of the move, pointing out that the funding commitments had been “clearly outlined” in the Health Minister’s compact with the Guild.
In the lead-up to it, the risk share issue caused tension between the Guild and Government. Mr Quilty had written earlier that the saving to the Government from the shortfall “equates to a $15,000 reduction in remuneration for the average pharmacy dispensing 55,000 scripts a year, at a time when the annualised adverse impact of the Government’s PBS reforms is an estimated $42,000 per pharmacy”.
Dr Russell also writes that the Guild has “fiercely and successfully” opposed location rule change and pushed for funding for primary care services in pharmacy, which she says is likely to grow under the 7CPA.
“Despite the fact uptake of these programs is described as ‘alarmingly low’, this has generated turf fights between doctors and pharmacists,” she writes.
“Some of the medical opposition is because evaluations of a number of long-running pharmacy programs have failed to demonstrate their value.
“In most cases, there has been insufficient data to enable any assessment of the impact of these programs on health outcomes.”
She writes that politicians are “always nervous” about treading on community pharmacy toes due to the Guild’s lobbying capabilities, as well as significant Pharmacy Guild donations to both sides of politics – as well as One Nation.
She said that the Guild’s critics see its approach to working within political processes as “one of manipulation,” quoting former ACCC chair Graeme Samuel in saying that the Guild indulges in “political blackmail”.
Mr Samuel has been loudly critical of the Guild and the location rules in particular in the leadup to the 7CPA negotiations.
“The Pharmacy Guild – and with it the interests of its members – appears, unsurprisingly, to be driving where health minister Greg Hunt will go with this agreement,” she concludes.
A spokesperson for the Guild dismissed the piece.
“By our estimation there is not a single new fact in the article,” they told the AJP.
“An outstanding example of investigative cutting and pasting.”