PBS dispensing a ‘very effective’ public-private partnership?

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Call for Federal, State and Territory governments to work together to promote pharmacists’ role, and ‘nurture’ the 5700-strong community pharmacy network

The PBS is a strong system of universal access to medicines and should remain so, Pharmacy Guild national president George Tambassis told guests of the organisation’s annual parliamentary dinner, including ministers Greg Hunt and Chris Bowen, on Tuesday night.

“The PBS enjoys strong support across the political spectrum with all political parties committed to ensuring that medicines remain universally accessible and affordable for all Australians,” said Mr Tambassis.

“The dispensing of PBS medicines – more than 300 million prescriptions a year through more than 5,700 community pharmacies, owned by over 4,500 individual pharmacists – is a very effective public-private partnership,” he said.

“It serves Australians well, and it needs to be nurtured, valued and maintained.”

Mr Tambassis called for greater recognition of potential pharmacist contribution to the healthcare landscape, saying pharmacists could fill in areas where patients are unable to see a GP and present to the emergency department.

“GP shortages in some areas, long waiting times, and higher out-of-pocket expenses are leaving some families feeling frustrated,” he said.

“According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over half-a-million Australians delayed or did not visit a GP in some areas and they needed to, because of cost.

“Many Australians are also finding it hard to get an appointment with a GP or are waiting for extended periods for treatment and advice – so obviously forgetting pharmacy.

“Poor access to GPs in some areas can even force some patients to emergency departments,” said Mr Tambassis.

Guild national president George Tambassis addresses Parliamentary Dinner attendees. Photo: AJP

“We urge the Federal, State and Territory governments to work together to promote the role of pharmacists who are currently underutilised in the health system.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed his support for the pharmacy sector in the leadup to 7CPA negotiations, saying the government believes “deeply, profoundly and utterly” in community pharmacy.

“Our great task going forward, one which we’ve already started upon but we really head into in earnest tomorrow, is the negotiations over the 7CPA,” he told attendees.

Minister Hunt promised “certainty” to pharmacists, saying the government would guarantee the amount of remuneration for scripts over the five years of the next Community Pharmacy Agreement.

However some areas of dispute remain up in the air, including the controversial dollar discount.

Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen criticised the government’s handling of the dollar discount review, saying that “even by Canberra standards it’s been a long review”.

“I know that the dollar discount has placed more pressure on the viability of some smaller pharmacies as other costs such as rent have certainly not been falling,” he added.

“But of course, the dollar discount should only be changed in a way that makes medicines more affordable, not more expensive. This should be a focus of the current negotiations.”

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