A 24-hour pharmacy under threat over a legal dispute with a competitor is petitioning the community for support
In January this year the Federal Court ruled that the Minister for Health had failed to “consider” the objections of a Melbourne pharmacy owner before approving a new pharmacy to be opened nearby.
Owner Dominic Stambe had objected to the proposal of a 24-hour pharmacy attached to a large medical centre in south-east Melbourne, stating it was only approximately 136 metres and 239 metres respectively from his two pharmacies – Pinewood Centreway Pharmacy and Priceline Pharmacy Pinewood.
The application for the new pharmacy was initially rejected by a delegate of the Secretary in May 2017.
After the applicants made a request to the Health Minister to exercise his discretionary power, the pharmacy was approved in November 2017 – opening as TerryWhite Chemmart Mt Waverley in March 2018.
The Health Minister had decided it was in the public interest to approve the new pharmacy.
However in January 2019 the Court found that the Minister had neither read nor “considered” the objections Mr Stambe had provided.
Justice Debra Mortimer noted that several arguments the owner had brought up had not been addressed by the Minister in his reasons for the decision.
The original approval by the Health Minister was ordered to be set aside from 11 June 2019, which means the pharmacy’s PBS licence will be suspended temporarily from that date until the Minister has reconsidered the pharmacy application.
Mr Stambe should have the opportunity to provide comments on, or information or documents relevant to, the application before the Health Minister makes a decision, the Court ruled.
The process will most likely take several weeks.
Yen Yab, owner of TerryWhite Chemmart Mt Waverley, says the decision to suspend their PBS licence from 11 June has “devastated” the pharmacy and the wider community.
“We won’t be able to dispense PBS prescriptions [although] we can still put through private scripts. That will have a huge impact on the business,” Mr Yab told AJP.
The pharmacy will also be subject to reduced hours.
He says the Waverley Family Healthcare medical centre and pharmacy were opened with the intention of operating alongside one another.
“Our pharmacy is located inside the 24-hour medical centre. Without the pharmacy, they will actually stop opening 24 hours as well,” said Mr Yab.
“There’s no point seeing a doctor and not being able to buy a medication. Our pharmacy also supports the medical centre doctors financially by paying them the lease.
“So without the pharmacy lease, it’s more cost for the doctors to run the 24-hour service. Hence if the pharmacy goes then they can’t afford to stay open as well.
“If both places close, or stop 24 hours, then that will have an impact on the wider community as well, such as the local emergency departments and local families.”
Meanwhile Mr Stambe, in an affidavit filed to the court, signalled an intention to open one of his pharmacies to trade for 24 hours, seven days a week, in order to service the patients of the Waverley Family Healthcare medical centre and also other nearby residents who need access to pharmaceutical benefits after hours.
The Court noted there was no precise evidence provided on behalf of Mr Stambe about when he formed this intention.
Mr Stambe said that he had not commenced trading at either of his pharmacies for 24 hours a day or taken any steps towards doing so before now, because the TerryWhite Chemmart Mt Waverley is nearby and trades for 24 hours a day.
He added that it would take him “two to three months to actually commence trading for 24 hours a day, seven days a week”, because of the need to make proper staffing and security arrangements.
His original objection to the new Mt Waverley pharmacy was that there was already a “saturation” of pharmacies in the area, and he contended that the trading hours of the eight existing pharmacies – and one pharmacy department attached to a local private hospital – covered all but one hour of the opening hours of the existing medical centres, including the existing hours of the Waverley Family Healthcare medical centre.
Mr Yab said that since opening on 5 March 2018, the 24-hour pharmacy and medical centre together have helped thousands of patients, many of whom are patients of the local hospital emergency departments.
He will be presenting his online petition before the Health Minister, which has now gathered more than 2,500 signatures – and hopes the Minister will take no longer than six weeks to come to a decision.
“Whether the Minister approves the licence or not, it’s a discretionary thing,” he told AJP.
“There isn’t really a right or wrong. The reason we lost the court case was more of a procedural error. So that’s why we’re going through the whole process again, to make sure all the processes have been taken care of.”