‘Pharmacy is big business’


43281150 - medicines with money inside

A prominent GP and pharmacy critic has highlighted the conflict of interest between politics and pharmacy

Evan Ackermann has published a new piece in MJA InSight about the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and its ties to politicians.

In particular he refers to the recent report from the Queensland parliamentary inquiry into pharmacy ownership and scope of practice.

Dr Ackermann, who is the immediate past Chair of RACGP Expert Committee Quality Care, describes the report as “quite distasteful”, saying the final committee decision to maintain ownership restrictions in the state is due to the Pharmacy Guild’s “undue influence” over politicians, including through political donations.

This includes donations from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s Queensland branch to the state’s political parties during 2018—most recently, $11,000 was provided to the Australian Labor Party (State of Queensland) on 23 August 2018.

“We are all familiar with the adverse public health outcomes when government has a cosy relationship with industry – tobacco companies, the alcohol industry, the food industry, just to name a few,” argues Dr Ackermann.

“How is it that politicians in political inquiries do not reveal their conflicts with pharmacy?”

“We all know that pharmacy is big business and the Pharmacy Guild represents this aspect of community pharmacy,” he continues.

“Protected boundaries, protected ownership and support for care that is not evidence-based have not only resulted in increased costs, but stifled innovation and safety development in the community sector.”

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild says Dr Ackermann’s contention that the Queensland inquiry continues protectionist practices, rather than supporting innovation and consumer rights, ignores the fact that the underlying findings of the inquiry are focused on patient outcomes.

“The inquiry paves the way for pharmacists to operate to the full extent of their training with the aim of providing consumers with better access to health services and taking pressure off GPs and hospital emergency departments.

“As the Guild’s major strategic research project Community Pharmacy 2025 has identified, consumers and health professionals see it as vital that pharmacists operate uniformly and nationally to the full scope of practice, making maximum use of their clinical skills and knowledge, collaboratively with other health professionals,” says the spokesperson.

“Dr Ackermann’s seems to be so intent on trying to find sinister political messages in the Queensland report that he has missed the whole focus of it – improving patient outcomes through full utilisation of pharmacists’ skills and knowledge.

“That anyone could argue against this is breath taking.”

Meanwhile last week Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale called for greater transparency in CPA negotiations.

Senator Di Natale added that the negotiations were “backroom deals” which were “negotiated on the back of an envelope”.

Sydney pharmacist and NSW Guild committee member Adele Tahen responded in an open letter to her local member that his remarks were an “unfounded attack on the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and community pharmacy in general”.

“The Guild are powerful because of people like myself who are active within our communities and we maintain a good relationships with our local member such as yourself,” Ms Tahan said.

She said Senator Di Natale’s comments insinuate an illegal or dishonest deal.

“The 6CPA with the PBS is the only part of the health care sector’s spending which is sustainable. The PBS was $10 billion dollars ten years ago and it remains $10 billion ten years later. Doing deals behind closed door is how all deals are done to protect any deals and to ensure a done deal.”

However Dr Ackermann agrees with Senator Di Natale.

“We have a politically influential business group, being the sole negotiator with government for the multi-billion-dollar Community Pharmacy Agreements.  This financially supports the community pharmacy model to provide PBS medications which the Productivity Commission notes is at significant cost to the nation,” he says, referring to a 2017 report that suggested community pharmacists should be replaced by automated dispensing.

“These agreements also fund pharmacy-based professional programs for which high-level evidence states there is little or no public health benefit,” he continues, although some of the articles he points to found moderate- to high-certainty evidence of positive outcomes from pharmacist-led medication reviews, while others had mixed results.

Meanwhile several groups have shared their desire to be part of future Community Pharmacy Agreements, including the PSA and the Consumers Health Forum.

Read Dr Ackermann’s full article here

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