Returning the power to the profession

What has to happen before the Pharmacy Guild can argue for increased pay for pharmacists? Does the Guild now own the full scope of practice clinical agenda? Trent Twomey talks to AJP 

In the second part of our detailed interview with Pharmacy Guild of Australia national president Trent Twomey, we discuss pharmacist’s pay, achieving full scope of practice, the situation with rent and the issues for rural and regional pharmacy (scroll down to see the full video). 

AJP: How do you see you relationships with other groups within pharmacy, and with other healthcare bodies?

When it comes to the relationship between the medical profession and the pharmacy profession, it’s always going to be very strong at a grassroots level. I’ve got great relationships with my GPs. Most of my pharmacies are next to general practice surgeries.

But I don’t think any time soon we’re going to see a love-in between the AMA and the Guild, at branch or national level.

My door is always open [to other groups in pharmacy]. I think we’re stronger with a united front. The Guild is a broad church, but I’d like it to become a broader church. I’d like all those pharmacies that have not joined the Guild to do so.

I have an open door to all the other pharmacy groups.

I assure you as Guild national president I will be investing heavily personally in not just ensuring our internal stakeholder, but our external stakeholder, relationships are stronger at the end of my presidency.

You said you’ve been talks with the Retailers Association, and I’ve heard that they seem to be starting to listen to feedback from pharmacy? How do you see this situation?

My first message to our members is don’t wait till the end of your lease to start a conversation with your landlord.

Your landlord is acutely aware of the changes in consumer behaviour that have happened as a result of COVID-19. The acceleration of people choosing to access products and services via the phone, via the app, via the internet and the threat that poses to traditional bricks and mortar networks. And community pharmacy isn’t exempt from that.

I can assure all of our members that shopping centres, despite being on the other side of the negotiation table, they want to maintain foot traffic, they want to ensure they pivot toward service based, rather than product-based industries, and pharmacy is at that intersection of being a service provider and a product provider.

They want big profitable, viable pharmacies that are generating foot traffic.

So talk to people like Phil Chapman at Lease One, reach out to your landlord and if your lease needs to be renegotiated, bring it forward.

You’re based in Cairns. How do you see the situation for rural and regional pharmacy at the moment?

There are 1334 pharmacies that are in rural, regional and remote Australia and I think that really is our trump card, our strong suite, when negotiating with the Commonwealth and state and territory governments.

The reason we got those 56 pharmacies activated for COVID-19 vaccinations was because there was no general practice in those areas, or if there was, they didn’t want to participate. So we had some Queenslanders that would have to drive hundreds of kilometers in some instances, to access their vaccine, and that’s completely nonsensical and cuts across the principle of universal access.    

When you saw the remuneration model released for COVID-19, you saw consistent with the model for general practice, that there was a surcharge for those pharmacies in rural, regional and remote Australia. As there should be.

Workforce really is the biggest bane of the existence of being a regional pharmacy owner, and its getting worse. But I do want to remind people that its not acutely a pharmacy issue. The same problem is being experienced by our medical colleagues, by our dental colleagues… it’s a regional workforce issue, its not specifically a pharmacy workforce issue.

I’m surprised that’s an issue even in a location like Cairns     

Well Cairns truly is paradise. For any of your listeners looking to relocate God’s own country, reach out to Georgina or myself. We’d love to have you, and that’s my unashamed plug.

But truly, regional Australia is paradise. We’ve got a great work-life balance. With improvements in technology, you can be far more connected that we were even 10 years ago.

The issue of pay is something that’s always brought up by our readers. You’ve said yourself that you want pharmacists to be paid more

They should be

So what can be done on both an individual pharmacy level, and at a whole of community pharmacy level?

Let me be clear, I want a highly skilled, highly trained, highly paid workforce, because the opposite is unpalatable. I want the community pharmacy sector to continue to attract the very best talent in both the professional pharmacist space and the pharmacy assistant space.

To do that there is a bit of a misnomer out there that the Guild can simply sit down with the employee union, do a deal, sort it out, have it rubber stamped by the Fair Work Commission. That’s not the way the architecture of industrial relations happens post the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd reforms. I’d love to be able to do that, you know I love striking a deal, doing the negotiations.

If I could get the SDA and and APESMA into a room and lock heads we could probably get it done in a couple of hours .. . but it’s just not that simple.

So it does come down to the concept of work value, and this is a chicken and egg case. I can’t advocate in a work value case for higher wages when the government simply won’t let us raise value.

This is why the Guild has pivoted and has taken ownership and leadership of the full scope of practice clinical agenda. Others speak about it, they’re not showing leadership. We own it. We’re doing it because we want full scope of practice. And when we have full scope of practice, patients will pay, and pay with pleasure to have all the extra things they can have from their community pharmacy.

And when we have it, there will be a legitimate work value claim and the Guild will be supportive.   

It must be a boost to the Guild, and to pharmacy in Queensland, to have Dr Jeanette Young as Chief Health Officer? She seems such a strong advocate for the clinical role of community pharmacists?   

She’s a remarkable woman. It’s no surprise to the Guild, and it would be no surprise to your readers why she was a finalist for Australian of the Year for Queensland. She’s so eloquent, so intelligent.

My take out from her session was the relationship Dr Young has with the pharmacy profession. The Pharmacy Guild has invested an awful lot of time, energy and effort into building relationships not just with elected officials… but also with the decision makers. The Chief Health Officer is an important part of the Queensland health architecture and she is an important person for us to interact with.

It’s no surprise that she waxed lyrically about pharmacy, because we have said yes when she has asked us for help on a variety of fronts. It’s a partnership.

I can assure all of our members, all around Australia, I’m the national president now and I have no state… we’re investing just as heavily in other states and territories as well.

And whilst we’ve seen gains with COVID-19 vaccination in Queensland because of Dr Young and her support of pharmacist immunisation, we’ve seen gains in other areas such as injectable buprenorphine in Victoria and access to the National Immunisation Program in Tasmania, the ACT, Western Australia and Victoria.

The Guild also has great relations with Dr Young’s colleagues all around Australia.

Looking forward, what would you like to have as your main achievement as national president? 

Firstly it’s not just me. I have a Board full of fabulous people. It’s their vision. I’m just a mouthpiece for it.

But where do I want the profession to be in ten years? I want to return the power, the prestige and the money to the profession that we once had. I’m not ashamed to say that. The gloss and shine has come off a bit.

I’m very conscious that I’m merely the custodian of the Presidency of the Guild. We turn 100 years old in seven years and I just hope that I bequeath a Guild and a profession that is stronger and more professional than the one I inherited.      

Click here to see part 1 of the interview transcription 





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