Ownership deregulation: what you said

A discussion about pharmacy ownership by Chemist Warehouse’s Damien Gance sparked a strong reaction from AJP readers this week

Appearing at a public hearing held as part of the Queensland Parliamentary Inquiry into the establishment of a Pharmacy Council in that state, as well as the transfer of pharmacy ownership, Mr Gance suggested that the arguments of those in favour of the status quo were “truly grounded in self-interest being disguised as community care”.

He suggested that pharmacy ownership be opened to all who were able to pass a “fit and proper person” test – though he did express concern about the possibility of ownership by pharmaceutical companies.

Retailers such as Woolworths might be more likely to offer pharmacist services such as vaccination or mother-and-baby services, he said, and corporate owners of 100 or so pharmacies may feel more compelled to act ethically given the size of the businesses at stake.

AJP readers reacted with a certain amount of scepticism.

“I think I will need a few cups of coffee and a revision of logic 101 to fully comprehend the wisdom and insights of a multimillionaire who has a stranglehold on pharmacy ownership yet suggests that ‘Many an argument voiced by those in favour of the status quo are truly grounded in self interest being disguised as community care’,” wrote John Wilks.

Several took umbrage at the suggestion that corporate types were any more likely to pass a “fit and proper person” test than a pharmacist.

“Fit and proper white collar executives, accountants, financial planners, banking & finance directors have been robbing Australians blind,” said Willy the chemist.

And David Lund wrote that “How can corporate owners be more reliable or trustworthy than the average hard working Aussie Pharmacist? Aussies will worry when they don’t have quality pharmacists serving them when they leave the industry”.

Greg Meaghan said that he had worked with a number of “very ethical” owners who would never consider inappropriately dispensing large amounts of painkillers – but questioned whether other owners might.

“Lately I have been reading about Woolworths owned poker machine venues, and I’m not sure how someone would conclude that there would not be pressure to dispense it either…”

Nick Logan wrote that “I believe a young, disillusioned pharmacist on minimum wage, restricted to frantically clerking hundreds of scripts in a dispensary every day, for the benefit of a tycoon, who is discouraged from professional interaction with consumers, with no chance of improving health outcomes in their community, and resenting the day they decided to study pharmacy, is more likely to dispense inappropriately than an individual pharmacist who has made a significant financial commitment to the community.”

Jeff Lerner pointed out that Mr Gance’s statement that “The vast majority of pharmacies other than Chemist Warehouse” do not pass on the controversial $1 script copayment discount was a little questionable.

“This statement seriously misrepresents the situation, either intentionally or otherwise,” he wrote. “There is nothing to pass on. Nothing. ZERO.

“Pharmacies are not given funds to either keep or ‘pass on’ as they choose. It is simply that they are now legally permitted to reduce by $1 the patient co-payment which they are obliged to collect. If they do give a $1 discount it reduces their bottom line.

“Gance’s misrepresentation maligns pharmacists by implying that they are pocketing money which is a government largesse intended to be given to patients. He would certainly know that this is not true.”

And geoffrey colledge said that he did not support the $1 discount anyway, because “people who use several prescriptions a year already have the safety net to reach and this is the same regardless of the $5.40 or $6.40 charge”.

But not everyone was unconvinced by the Chemist Warehouse co-founder’s words.

“Think it might be worth handing pharmacies to non-pharmacists, most insiders already know how ethical pharmacists can be… never worked for Chemist Warehouse but can only applaud Mr Gance for speaking up about the issues that are rife in pharmacy,” wrote disillusioned.

“To work in Woolworths could be a good thing if you can get a job there: air conditioning that works, a toilet that isn’t broken… many local pharmacies are so run down that the ‘old fashioned’, ‘heritage’ etc labels are just a facade for a shop that’s falling apart and not to mention another way to hold onto overcharging patients by supplying them ‘generics’.”

And PharmOwner thought of a use for the suggested “fit and proper person” test.

Such a test could “include an ethical component and whether your ownership group adheres to the PSA code of ethics on such practices as homeopathy,” wrote PharmOwner.

“I envisage the time that a fit and proper person test comes into effect and hundreds of Chemist Warehouses are forced to sell because their owners cannot pass such a test.”

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