Rural pharmacies report reduced trading hours

Concerns about impacts of reductions to rural payments remain, says pharmacy advocacy group

Dozens of pharmacies have been left worse off by changes to the Rural Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance (RPMA) with no resolution in sight, said the Rural Pharmacy Network Australia (RPNA) in a recent statement.

The RPMA received a funding boost from the Federal Government as part of the 7CPA, and transitioned from the Pharmacy Accessibility/Remoteness Index (PhARIA) to the Modified Monash Model (MMM) for rural classification at the beginning of the year.

For hundreds of pharmacies, the changes provided additional funding they had previously been unable to access. However some under the new matrix lost thousands in funding.

“Losing $7500 off the bottom line in a small turnover remote or isolated pharmacy presents a major change in profitability and viability,” an unnamed affected owner-operator from rural NSW recently said.

“It affects opening hours and the range of service that can be provided. Increases in funding for other 7CPA services do not offset the losses that many pharmacies have incurred.

“In fact, since many of the services either require a second pharmacist or a high volume of customers to be feasible, many small turnover remote and isolated pharmacies find themselves far worse off.”

A country pharmacy owner from QLD impacted by the changes told RPNA that he plans to adjust to the reduced payments by either reducing trading to weekdays only, or by changing to a cheaper DAA packing system.

Among those rural pharmacies selected to be involved in the COVID vaccination roll out, there have been impacts in terms of revising downwards how many vaccinations can be delivered per day, said the RPNA.

Additionally there are pharmacies that are looking at opting out altogether even though they had originally received approval to be involved.

A pharmacy owner based in rural WA reported reduced hours and said they decided not to participate in the vaccination roll out due to the cuts.

“I have reduced hours on a daily basis, now closing 30 minutes for lunch. I will be monitoring other days of the week to assess viability and make a future call on this too. I have also reduced staff hours,” said the proprietor.

“I have not participated in the COVID vaccination program because paying for extra staff, i.e. another pharmacist, to cover the time involved is totally out of my reach.”

RPNA asks: “With dozens of pharmacies in genuinely isolated rural communities from around the country left worse off under 7CPA, and having to make adjustments that will affect patient access, the question is being asked what happened and what is being done to fix this?”

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia declined to respond.

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