Pharmacist ownership could be ‘whittled away by stealth’

The Guild’s David Quilty has taken aim at three types of opponent of pharmacist ownership: the ideologues, commercial opportunists and perennially confused

In the latest edition of Forefront, the Pharmacy Guild’s executive director says that “the fervent belief that pharmacies must be owned by pharmacists is the foundation stone of the Pharmacy Guild’s espousal of the benefits of the community pharmacy model”.

Opponents of pharmacist ownership of community pharmacies come in three forms, he says.

“There are the ideologues who worship at the economic altar of the free market and unfettered ownership of all businesses,” writes Mr Quilty.

“Because it doesn’t suit their ideology, they deliberately misunderstand the unique market in which pharmacy operates – one where government is the funder and its objectives are driven by equity and quality, not just economic efficiency.

“Then there are the commercial opportunists. They see the opening up of pharmacy ownership as an opportunity for them to expand their businesses and make more money.

“They claim that this will reduce medicine prices even though the government sets the prices. They are seeking increased market power, including the opportunities from greater vertical and horizontal integration in the medicines sector.

“Last there are the perennially confused. On the one hand, they criticise the retail role of community pharmacy, claiming that it is profit driven, but on the other they think that pharmacy should be opened up to the supermarkets.  

“On the one hand, they bemoan the impact on patient care of the broader corporatisation of the health system, but on the other they espouse the very same solution for pharmacies.

“Their arguments are inherently inconsistent.”

Mr Quilty writes that the one thing these groups have in common is that “none of them have ever been able – and in most cases have never even tried – to produce the evidence to demonstrate that the open ownership model that they espouse will deliver better health outcomes for patients”.

He says the Guild has vowed never to permit the “foundation stone” of the current ownership model to be undermined and warned of attempts to get around the rules.

“We cannot have a situation where highly paid corporate lawyers and financial advisers are able to devise ever more complex arrangements in order to get around the clear and unambiguous intent of the pharmacy ownership laws,” he writes.

“The pharmacy ownership laws across the States and Territories must be maintained and enforced. Regulators need to have the resources and the expertise to ensure full compliance with the laws. 

“If there are loopholes that are being exploited, they need to be addressed. There should be transparent regulatory oversight, both in terms of pharmacy ownership approvals and registrations, and the setting and enforcement of standards.

“Otherwise there is a real risk that a community pharmacy model which has the overwhelming support of the Australian public will be whittled away by stealth.”

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  1. pagophilus

    When are the ownership limits going to be investigated, addressed and enforced (and loopholes closed, and forced sell-offs ordered for those who have flouted the laws)?

    • Andrew

      We’re four years past the introduction of the HMR caps and the cost effectiveness assessment is STILL GOING. Don’t hold your breath.

    • Paul Sapardanis

      Ask the regulatory authorities.

  2. Cameron Walls

    I’m all for ownership laws to stay in place, but they hardly seem effective at the moment. When so many stores can be controlled by one Pharmacist (or a board of non-Pharmacists), it feels like supermarket ownership is already here!

    • Gavin Mingay

      Or a pharmacist who lives 2000km away… 🙁

    • Bryan Soh

      I agree 100%. Many banner groups operate like corporatised supermarket chains. Besides, Look at Australia’s cheapest chemist for example, the ownership of 300+ pharmacies by the same small select group of individuals makes a mockery of the current laws.

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