Guild calls out deregulation as US system exposed as a “profit-before-all-else pharmacy racket”
A recent exposé in the New York Times has alleged that Walgreens pharmacy employees are under significant stress and “unreasonable” expectations, causing mistakes when filling scripts.
According to reporter Ellen Gabler, the employees told consultants for Walgreens in late 2019 that they had also been told to ignore some safeguards – but these complaints “went missing”.
Further reports by the publication last month allege that chains including Walgreens and CVS are risking errors due to insufficient staffing and “chaotic” workplaces.
Scott Knoer, chief pharmacy officer of the Cleveland Clinic in the US, says the current model of pharmacy in his country is “damaged beyond repair and must be rebuilt from the ground up to ensure that all prescriptions are filled correctly and safely”.
Big chain pharmacies operate with a different set of standards, he writes in STAT, adding that “the vast majority of their pharmacy revenue streams are predicated on filling prescriptions.”
“It’s no wonder, then, that in order to make more money you have to fill more prescriptions—and bigger profits can be generated by filling them faster and faster,” says Dr Knoer (PharmD).
“As the need for speed increases, quality, error rates, customer service and outcomes decline … the enormity of the problem leaves many of my pharmacist colleagues feeling helpless.
“Pharmacists are stuck in the middle of this profit-before-all-else racket—along with the patients they serve.”
Victorian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Anthony Tassone, warns that the flaws seen in the US system would happen here if the current pharmacy ownership model – with pharmacist-only ownership of pharmacies – is not protected.
“A deregulation of pharmacy ownership in Australia will lead to what has occurred in other industries – a concentration of ownership with fewer players, less competition and big corporates answering to their shareholders first and foremost, rather than patients,” Mr Tassone tells AJP.
He points out that under current legislation and professional guidelines, the responsibilities on pharmacists as proprietors impose a level of accountability and risk that would not be borne by a corporate entity.
Mr Tassone says the New York Times’ revelations are “absolutely alarming” and warns against opening the door to supermarkets, petrol stations, convenience stores and other corporates to enter the pharmacy space.
“The 5700+ community pharmacies across Australia are currently owned by over 4000 individual pharmacist proprietors—hardly a monopoly as some vocal and ill-informed ‘nay-sayers’ would have you believe,” he says.
“In truth, supermarkets are only really interested in the most profitable parts of pharmacies – not the full range of services provided by community pharmacies,” says Mr Tassone, highlighting examples such as dose administration aids, medication checks, wound care and opioid replacement therapy.
“The impact of supermarket or corporate pharmacies would be loss of services for patients. While other jurisdictions like the US have long had deregulation of pharmacy ownership, they are hardly a leading or shining example of what we should be striving for as a healthcare system for our patients and community,” he says.
“Patients deserve better, pharmacists deserve better.”