Outrage over pharmacies struggling to access support

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It is “absolutely perverse” that community pharmacies have to contemplate the choice of dispensing high cost drugs that may impact on their eligibility for funding support, says Guild leader

The Pharmacy Guild Victoria branch is calling for more financial support for community pharmacies as it reports the pandemic is hitting the industry hard.

Last week AJP shared reports that pharmacies in Melbourne’s CBD are doing it extremely tough during the Stage 4 restrictions for COVID-19.

“JobKeeper requires demonstrating that there has been at least a 30% reduction in revenue over a given period. These pharmacies are lucky to even have 30% of the revenue compared to last year – we have received reports of some pharmacies being 90% down on trade compared to the previous year,” said Guild Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone.

He added: “We have had instances of pharmacies in the CBD having to close for a deep clean due to a positive COVID case result amongst staff, endure significant out-of-pocket costs in the thousands of dollars, and there has been zero assistance from the Victorian government in helping offset this.

“This is bitterly disappointing – and we have been calling for a dedicated support fund for community pharmacy for months, as has occurred in other states such as Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia in response to the COVID pandemic.”

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) responded to Mr Tassone’s comments by pointing to the millions it is providing for business support.

“This global pandemic is having a devastating impact on economies right around the world, and Victoria is not immune,” a government spokesperson told AJP.

“Our $534 million Business Support Fund includes support for businesses in Melbourne’s CBD – including grants available for individual businesses including pharmacies, and we encourage any affected business owners to get in touch with the City of Melbourne to see what assistance they may be eligible for.”

The Business Support Package provides $10 million towards support for businesses in the Melbourne CBD, as well as $10,000 grants for businesses in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire and $5,000 grants for regional Victoria.

However Mr Tassone says more support is needed for community pharmacies, which face a unique set of challenges.

“While it is encouraging that the Victorian government has extended the Business Support Fund to support small businesses impacted by COVID, one of the eligibility criteria is qualifying for the Federal government’s JobKeeper program,” he told AJP.

“We are aware of instances where pharmacies are clearly negatively impacted by COVID restrictions but have not been successful in applying for JobKeeper due to a disproportionate amount of revenue registered against the dispensing of high cost drugs which has skewed their overall trading results without delivering a corresponding bottom line outcome.”

Mr Tassone said the Guild has previously raised this with the Victorian and Federal government.   

“It’s absolutely perverse that community pharmacies may even have to contemplate the choice of dispensing high cost drugs for patients that may impact on their eligibility for funding support,” he said.

“A deemed ineligibility for JobKeeper based on headline revenue numbers that may be for circumstances beyond the control of community pharmacies should not disqualify them from assistance for these available business support funds, particularly when they’re bearing the out-of-pocket costs for a deep clean due to contact with a positive COVID case.

“While we encourage our members to apply for any available support funds, the simple matter is those applicants will be ‘another number in a very long queue’ whilst trying to keep their doors open to provide a vital primary healthcare service.”

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