Why pharmacies are not like restaurants

Diners on Lygon Street

An article accusing pharmacists of “raking it in while the public suffers” has been condemned by the Guild

Pharmacy Guild national president George Tambassis has written to the Courier-Mail to clarify points made in the opinion piece, which compared pharmacies to restaurants in questioning the validity of pharmacy regulation.

“An Italian restaurant just opened a few hundred metres from where I live and it will shortly be joined by a Greek restaurant a few doors away,” wrote Mike O’Connor.

“Good luck to them and their entrepreneurial spirit. It’s all about competition, the lifeblood of our free enterprise system.

“Unless, of course, you’re a pharmacist and cocooned from competition by federal governments guaranteeing you a substantial income, no matter how hopeless you are at running a business.”

Mr O’Connor criticised rules pertaining to the 1.5km rule, and the prohibition on pharmacies located within or connecting to a supermarket.

“The bottom line is that the existing rules mean that consumers pay more while the pharmacists, a protected commercial species, rake in the dollars,” he wrote.

In a similar vein to a recent article in The Australian by Rebecca Urban, as well as a piece by CHF communications director Mark Metherell in the Guardian, Mr O’Connor also condemned the Pharmacy Guild over the King Review financial survey.

“The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, many of its members millionaires thanks to the monopoly they have been granted, is now disinclined to co-operate with a government review into their remuneration.

“Why? Could it be they are fearful that the present system will be exposed as a lucrative arrangement which benefits wealthy pharmacists at the expense of a long-suffering public?”

Writing to the Courier-Mail, Mr Tambassis said the comparison of the current community pharmacy model to restaurant competition “is naïve at best and misleading at worst”.

“In attacking the location rules which define where a community pharmacy may operate, author Mike O’Connor fails to take into account that the rules are designed to ensure maximum access for consumers to the health services provide by community pharmacies,” Mr Tambassis wrote.

“As a result of these rules, some 87% of Australians live within 2.5km of at least one pharmacy. This level of access to pharmacies is higher than for supermarkets, banks and medical centres in both capital cities and in regional areas. This is an access that is the envy of many health systems across the world.

“The rules have been designed to ensure the optimal distribution of pharmacies by preventing clustering in urban areas and encouraging location of pharmacies in rural areas—an objective which has demonstrably been met.”

Mr Tambassis says that among other benefits, the location rules improve efficiency through increased competition between pharmacies.

“Clearly the rules are working and Australians across the whole country are the beneficiaries. These Australians recognise the benefits of the community pharmacy system and how it helps to improve their health outcomes.

“It’s just a pity your author does not share their grasp of such a clear and fundamental concept.”

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