Some community pharmacies reporting 90% downturn

There is an assumption that “pharmacies must be doing alright – you can still open”, but the Guild says some are barely hanging on

Research companies tracking movement in the Sydney and Melbourne CBDs have revealed how hard-hit businesses in those areas have been.

“Mobile devices numbers revealed that the number of people coming into Sydney CBD in in the first week of July was down 47% compared to January and February,” says Roy Morgan in its August COVID-19 update.

“Things were even worse in Melbourne,” it says. Even before the resumption of Stage 3 lockdown, CBD visits were down 61%.

In the week ending August 8, the first week of Melbourne’s Stage 4 lockdown, movement in the CBD plunged to a new record low of just 17% of pre-COVID times.

“Many businesses in Melbourne that were struggling to get back on their feet are now in lockdown again as the state tries to prevent widespread transmission,” says Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine.

“The lockdown includes an 8pm curfew for residents of the city, mandatory mask-wearing and additional restrictions that force Melburnians not to venture more than 5km from their homes for shopping or exercise.”

Community pharmacies are no exception to the impact of the restrictions.

Anthony Tassone, president of the Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch, says pharmacies in Melbourne’s CBD are doing it extremely tough during the Stage 4 restrictions for COVID-19.

“It is not only pharmacies in the CBD that have been significantly impacted, also in large shopping centres and pharmacies attached to medical centres where the doctors have transitioned to consult via telehealth and aren’t physically present at the general practice,” he said.

According to Roy Morgan, JobKeeper is currently being paid to 3.5 million workers via 960,000 employers. Mr Tassone told AJP the Guild has been made aware of multiple pharmacies who have been and continue to be under the JobKeeper scheme.

“JobKeeper requires demonstrating that there has been at least a 30% reduction in revenue over a given period. These pharmacies are lucky to even have 30% of the revenue compared to last year – we have received reports of some pharmacies being 90% down on trade compared to the previous year,” says Mr Tassone.

“There can be assumptions by members of the public, and even with government and relevant departments that ‘pharmacies must be doing alright – you can still open’ but the clear message we have is that some pharmacies are barely hanging on and without federal government assistance may not be open at all.”

Being a permitted business being able to open in Stage 4 is not some sort of free pass that makes pharmacies immune from severe challenges and pressures on their viability.

Mr Tassone points out that while there are business grants available at the Victorian state level under Business Victoria, these are not focused on healthcare providers and appear to be one-off grants that may help pay the rent for a month but still leave some pharmacies in a challenging position.

The Guild has also been assisting its members in engaging with the Victorian Small Business Commissioner under the commercial tenancy relief scheme to seek rent reductions from their landlord in very extreme circumstances.

“We have had instances of pharmacies in the CBD having to close for a deep clean due to a positive COVID case result amongst staff, endure significant out-of-pocket costs in the thousands of dollars, and there has been zero assistance from the Victorian government in helping offset this,” Mr Tassone adds.

“This is bitterly disappointing – and we have been calling for a dedicated support fund for community pharmacy for months, as has occurred in other states such as: Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia in response to the COVID pandemic. Perhaps these governments value and understand community pharmacy better than our own Victorian government?

“If community pharmacies hadn’t have turned up and been there for their patients throughout the pandemic – we would have seen a health crisis become an absolute catastrophe here in Victoria.”

AJP has contacted the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services for comment.

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