‘Uber Eats charges more to deliver a pizza.’

Credit: Franklin Heijnen/Wikimedia Commons.

Pharmacists express disappointment and frustration at the allocated fees and program restrictions for the new Home Medicines Service

The Home Medicines Service, a recently announced temporary program to fund pharmacist medicines delivery during the COVID-19, has drawn criticism from pharmacists and representative groups.

While the government announced $25 million to fund home medicines services which will enable patients to have their PBS prescriptions delivered to their home, payments have been set at $5.00 ex GST per delivery.

According to the rules published by the Pharmacy Programs Administrator, deliveries to individual patients cannot be made more than once per month.

Services must be claimed by the end of the following calendar month and claims submitted outside this time frame will not be paid and cannot be resubmitted. In addition, pharmacies will not be able to apply any additional patient charge for delivery if it is being claimed through the program.

Pharmacies who provide the service will be expected to keep extensive records including consent of the patient and how the delivery person complied with the current sanitary and isolation protocols.

The service is available to patients who are isolating themselves for confirmed COVID-19, suspected cases meeting national criteria following consultation, those aged over 70, those who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander aged over 50, people with chronic health issues or are immunocompromised, and parents with new babies or people who are pregnant.

It is a good announcement – but it needs to be a great announcement. ~ Trent Twomey

Trent Twomey, Senior National Vice President at the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, told AJP that more is needed.

“First of all, it’s welcomed that the government has acknowledged that home delivery services are going to be essential in the next six months as we deal with COVID-19 and people are self-isolating,” he says.

“The message to consumers is clear: if you are unwell pick up the phone and call, help will come to you. Every local pharmacist if they possibly can will ensure they will home delivery if they have a patient that needs it. That’s the type of people we are.”

However Mr Twomey adds: “We have put on the record that funds are insufficient. Uber charges more to deliver a pizza, Dominos charges more, Australia Post charges more for a 24-hour turnaround in a capital city then we’re receiving for this initiative.

“So what this means is patients will have to be charged a fee on top of what the Commonwealth is pitching in. What we do need is a relook at this to ensure that there is no gap for receiving no home delivery. We welcome the announcement, it is a good announcement – but it needs to be a great announcement. They are aware of it and we are working them.”

There’s no doubt that we are disappointed with the funding that has been allocated and some of the restrictions around the service. ~ Chris Freeman

The PSA also expressed disappointment at the allocation of funding.

“We are hearing day in and day out the current challenges experienced by pharmacists, primarily in community pharmacy tackling the COVID-19 pandemic,” PSA national president Chris Freeman told AJP.

“This is early days, and I’m thankful to be in such a profession that takes its community’s health to heart. Pharmacists are doing their utmost to preserve continuity of medicines supply in tough times, with patients and their communities at their wits’ end about what to do.

“While we welcomed the announcement of the Home Medicines Service last week as a way of supporting pharmacists to preserve the health of their communities and their most vulnerable, there’s no doubt that we are disappointed with the funding that has been allocated and some of the restrictions around the service,” says Associate Professor Freeman.

“Pharmacists will need to make a business decision unfortunately about whether they do in fact deliver medicines to our nation’s most vulnerable people and I’m saddened by that – but our pharmacists are used to putting their patients’ health first.

“We will continue to make representations about this service and other supports that are needed for our members to preserve their health, their safety and the safety of our most vulnerable Australians.”

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Pharmacists have shared their frustration at the record-keeping requirements of the service.

Rural Pharmacy Network Australia has flagged that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ flat fee structure is not appropriate for rural pharmacies potentially having to cover vast distances to deliver to patients.

“Our suggestion was for a fee based on kilometres covered for pharmacies in PhARIA 3-6,” RPNA spokesperson Katie Stott told AJP.

Several pharmacists took to social media to express their frustrations at the program rules.

“It’s worse than nothing,” said one pharmacist, adding that pharmacists shouldn’t have to comply with “ridiculous” rules.

Another said: “That will be the hardest 5 bucks I’ve ever earned … A stupid level of bureaucracy. Have they considered some of our rural customers are perhaps 30-45min drive away? $5 a month – not adequate. One size fits all again.”

“It will take more labour costs to keep records and apply for $5 than it’s worth! Another example of bureaucracy in steroids … insulting frankly,” said a pharmacy owner.

See more information about the service here

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