The good old days!

Pharmacy regulations stuck in the “horse and buggy” era, report claims

The changing nature of community pharmacy ownership and structure has not been met by similar updates to regulation of the sector, the latest report issued by the Grattan Institute claims.

The new report ‘Mapping Primary Care in Australia‘ says that “the significant change in industry structure (small independents to franchise to big box) has not been accompanied by commensurate regulatory change.”

“Pharmacy regulation remains in the horse-and-buggy age of the independent pharmacies,” says the report, co-authored by well-known health economist Professor Stephen Duckett.

The report also reiterates a previous claim by the authors that pharmacy location rules “restrict competition, especially in metropolitan areas, and appear mainly to be for the benefit of pharmacy owners rather than consumers.

“The industry is highly regulated, and the sector has strongly resisted attempts to change the way it is organised and regulated”. 

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia rejected the claims, saying: “We obviously reject the notion that consumers do not benefit from the ownership of pharmacies by pharmacists. Ensuring that a pharmacist owns and controls a pharmacy reflects the community expectations and desire to maintain the integrity of the professional relationship between pharmacist and patient.

“That relationship hinges on trust and personal service, with pharmacists being directly accountable and liable for the services they provide. The clear intent of the ownership legislation is to ensure that professional standards and principles are not subordinated to commercial objectives and pressures in the practice of pharmacy.

“One need only look at the impact of the corporatisation of general practice, often producing battery-hen medicine in six minute slots, to understand why the regulation of pharmacy is beneficial and should be retained”.

The spokesperson said the Guild did welcome the report’s support for a broadening of pharmacists’ contribution to the health system, for instance by allowing a wider range of pharmacist-administered vaccinations.

The report said Australia’s primary health care sector faced “significant problems” around coordination and integration.

“Access to some services is limited. Some care is poorly integrated and coordinated, especially for people with complex needs. Information on patient characteristics and outcomes is fragmented and incomplete.

“The overwhelming majority of primary care organisations are small. Most are private GP, pharmacy, dental and allied health practices.

“These practices have limited organisational capacity to manage critical issues such as quality assurance, staff and service development, clinical information systems, administrative systems, and relationships with specialist services”.

The ability to coordinate with one another and with specialist services was difficult, and perhaps beyond the capacity for such small businesses funded largely on a fee-for-service basis, the authors claimed.

“They are hampered by their scale, funding models, inadequate systems development and limited
organisational support”.

Click here to see the report

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