Pharmacist calls for better enforcement of standards

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Queensland will suffer from government decision to reject a separate pharmacy council, says the pharmacy owner

Earlier this year, the Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee in Queensland was tasked with inquiring into the establishment of a pharmacy council and the transfers of pharmacy ownership in the state.

In handing down its October findings, the committee decided there was no public interest case in establishing a separate statutory authority such as a Pharmacy Council in Queensland.

This was based on three key findings from the Queensland Productivity Commission’s report:

  • no evidence that other Australian states with pharmacy councils have better community outcomes;
  • no evidence that the existing premises regulation is resulting in unsafe conditions in pharmacies in Queensland; and
  • no evidence that more intensive enforcement of ownership restrictions would provide greater consumer benefits in Queensland.

“The Queensland Productivity Commission undertook a cost–benefit analysis at the request of the committee. That analysis demonstrated that the costs of establishing and operating a separate statutory authority would outweigh the benefits,” stated the committee.

However Gold Coast pharmacist Matthew Bellgrove from National Custom Compounding at Merrimac said Queensland was the only state in the country that didn’t have a separate statutory authority monitoring pharmacies and enforcing compliance with state legislation.

Mr Bellgrove is calling on the Queensland Government to re-consider their decision not to establish a state-based pharmacy council, which he says would have the power to enforce on-premises health and safety standards and ensure pharmacies were compliant with current ownership rules.

The inquiry’s findings will be considered by the Queensland Government before it issues a response in coming months.

“This situation means that pharmacies who aren’t fully complying with legislation could be slipping through the cracks,” he said.

“A dedicated Pharmacy Council, with industry-specific knowledge and more targeted resources, would be better equipped to investigate possible breaches and enforce compliance.”

Under the current regulatory model, Queensland Health is responsible for ensuring compliance with legislation concerning the ownership and operations of pharmacies in Queensland.

In handing down the inquiry findings, the committee concluded that the Department of Health should continue to administer pharmacy ownership and premises regulation and drugs and poisons regulation.

“However, it needs to ensure the professional, safe and competent provision of pharmacy services and maintain public confidence in the pharmacy profession,” said the committee.

“There is a lack of transparency regarding the compliance of pharmacies and pharmacists with these regulations. This lack of transparency was raised by several submitters and also by witnesses in the public hearings.”

However Mr Bellgrove said this is not enough.

“All other states have Pharmacy Councils or similar authorities, and there are good reasons for it. It avoids the ‘tick-and-flick’ approach that can creep in when time and resources are tight,” he said.

Data presented to the Inquiry by the Queensland Productivity Commission (QPC), shows that a very low number of pharmacies – only 161 – were inspected in Queensland in 2017-18, less than in most other jurisdictions with a pharmacy council.

“At this rate of inspection, pharmacies would be inspected every 7.3 years,” the QPC report said.

QPC data also shows that between 2013-14 and 2017-18 an average of 246 inspections were carried out in Queensland per year, meaning pharmacies were only inspected every 4.6 years during this period.

In contrast, pharmacies in New South Wales are inspected every one-and-a-half years; pharmacies in Victoria are inspected every two years and in South Australia they’re inspected every three years.

“These states all have Pharmacy Councils responsible for carrying out the inspections,” Mr Bellgrove points out.

However pharmacies than in Western Australia saw just 15 inspections conducted in 2016-17.

In their report the Parliamentary Committee pointed to the fact that documented breaches in Queensland are represent lower-level non-compliance than other states, in support of their position that a pharmacy council was unnecessary.

However Mr Bellgrove said this evidence was not compelling.

“Are Queensland breaches lower, year after year, because our regulator is doing a much better job than the other states and our pharmacists are toeing the line?” he asked.

“Or are breaches lower because non-compliance is not getting picked up and reported by an under-resourced department whose people may not be aware of what to look for? I think it’s more likely to be the latter.

“Statistics of this kind can only reflect what’s being reported and not necessarily what’s happening on the ground,” he said.

“The pharmacy sector in Queensland needs more regulation, not less. We need to weed out the unscrupulous operators.”

“As a compounding pharmacist I would welcome the opportunity to continually demonstrate the high safety standards I maintain at my pharmacy and I think any reputable pharmacy owner would feel the same.”

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  1. Jarrod McMaugh

    If the government department that is supposed to administer the QLD pharmacy regulations has been unable (to this point) to do so adequately, how exactly are they supposed to oversee the formation of a new body to take on this role, then monitor that new body to ensure **they** do a good job?

    Get the department – who has responsibility but seems unable to meet it – working effectively first, then get a pharmacy council

    The last thing I would ever want is to see a council created by the same department who have messed up everything else so far.

    • Karalyn Huxhagen

      Or a council formed by the Health Minister of the day with a bias of members of a political persuasion rather than a fit for purpose council.

      Any of the pharmacists involved in health ombudsman work or judicial tribunals can back ATs comments

  2. Anthony Tassone

    As part of this Queensland parliamentary inquiry, the Auditor-General of Queensland was requested to undertake an audit of how the Queensland Department of Health assessed transfers of pharmacies from 1 January 2016.

    More can be learned of the purpose, methodology and outcomes of this audit via the below webpage;

    Below is an excerpt from the web page;

    “The objective of the audit was to assess whether the Department of Health (the department) ensured the transfers complied with the requirements of the Pharmacy Business Ownership Act 2001 (the Act). Refer to Appendix D for extract of the Act.

    We assessed:

    – the effectiveness of the current systems and processes in regulating pharmacy business ownership in Queensland
    – compliance with the Act for a sample of transfers of pharmacy ownership.”

    Also available from the above-mentioned web page is the Audit office’s final report for download.

    Below is an excerpt from the ‘Summary of findings’ section (page 7):

    “The Department of Health (the department) has not taken all reasonable steps to ensure
    the objects (purposes) of the Pharmacy Business Ownership Act 2001 (the Act) are being
    met. Gaps in the department’s processes and systems have resulted in it not having
    sufficient appropriate information about pharmacy ownership transfers. This means we
    have been unable to completely assess its compliance with the Act in administering the
    transfers over the last two years.”

    Below is an excerpt from the ‘Conclusions’ section (page 11);

    “The Department of Health (the department) has not designed processes and controls to
    ensure transfers in pharmacy ownership comply with all the requirements of the Act. It has
    some controls in place to address the requirements regarding limiting ownership to
    pharmacists and limiting pharmacy numbers, but it does not always apply them
    consistently or thoroughly.

    The department does not obtain enough information to conduct the tests thoroughly on
    more complex ownership arrangements such as franchisees. These accounted for
    approximately sixty per cent of the transfer notifications in the last two years. It also does
    not request enough personal information from pharmacy owners (such as dates of birth) so
    it can check if they have any undeclared ownership interests through corporate structures.”

    And then later it goes on;

    “The department has not been effectively administering the Act, as it has not adapted its
    processes to the more complex business structures and commercial arrangements
    pharmacy businesses now use. Its processes do not adequately address the objects
    (purposes) of the Act, which are to promote and maintain public confidence in the
    pharmacy profession by limiting pharmacy ownership and monitoring and enforcing
    compliance with the Act.”

    There are six recommendations from Page 12 of the report, that seek to improve the Queensland Department of Health’s monitoring, enforcement and administration of the pharmacy business ownership Act.

    Parliamentarians from all major parties (at both State/Territory and Federal level) have long done and continue to support pharmacist only ownership of pharmacies given the public benefit and interest it achieves. Members of the public have a preference for health practitioners to own their own practices,.

    The law is the law, and is in place for good reason.

    Regulators, in this case the Department of Health in Queensland, have a duty to uphold the law and administer the Act. Given the findings of the Queensland Audit office in the above-mentioned report, it is completely understandable why there are pharmacists and stakeholders who have concerns for the ongoing upholding of the legislation and its clear intent in Queensland as discussed in this article.

    Anthony Tassone
    President, Pharmacy Guild of Australia (Victoria)

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