‘Welcome to China.’


A convenience store stakeholder says these stores could sell beer and wine as well as contain a dispensary and pharmacist

Following a week’s worth of commentary in the mainstream media by Chemist Warehouse and convenience store interests, Jeff Rogut, CEO of the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores, has now told the ABC’s Annie Guest that he wants to put the consumer first.

He said he also represents the interests of Woolworths and Coles stores at service stations.

“The issue of pharmacy has come up quite often as a category that consumers would like to be able to buy from convenience stores,” he said.

“When I say that I don’t mean our current operators would suddenly become pharmacists, but the ability to have a pharmacy offer within the convenience stores.

“Again, that’s not a new concept – it’s been in the UK for a number of years, in the US we’re familiar with the drugstore concept, and even in Japan, where I experienced this a number of years back when I was there, we have some of the large convenience store groups that allow putting pharmacies within the convenience store.

“We are all about making it easy for people to buy what they want, when they want to buy it. We start with the consumer first,” he said.

“As an example we are excluded from selling beer and wine as an example out of convenience stores. Now that is almost a monopoly by the major supermarkets. Yet if you go to convenience stores again globally, it’s quite easy to get beer and wine.

“So we’re not about putting up barriers or suggesting regulation for anybody else.”

In response, Pharmacy Guild Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone told the AJP that, “Primary healthcare doesn’t belong in the aisles of a convenience store with tobacco and liquor”.

“The Australian public are satisfied with the care and service they receive from community pharmacies, they have a high level of trust for pharmacists and have a preference that health professionals own their own practices,” he said.

Ms Guest also spoke to the Pharmacy Guild Queensland Branch vice president Chris Owen, who called such suggestions “ludicrous” and said that a benefit of pharmacist ownership was that pharmacy owners mostly work in the stores and have “skin in the game”.

She also interviewed the Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett, who said that deregulation could result in longer opening hours of dispensaries and lower prices.

Meanwhile a high-profile economist has spoken to 2GB’s Michael McLaren to declare the location rules an “absolute joke” and “quite crazy”.

In outlining the rules, Mr McLaren complained that furniture store owners, pie shop owners, real estate agents or shoe shop owners were not subject to restrictions as outlined in the location rules.

“Welcome to China! It’s a joke, isn’t it?” he said.

Economist Leith Van Onselen, who writes as the “Unconventional Economist” for Macrobusiness and has written for a number of other outlets, said he would like to see discounters such as Chemist Warehouse be able to set up where they wanted.

“I know from personal experience – I actually shop at Chemist Warehouse, I’m lucky enough to have one reasonably close, and the prices they charge on these types of things – my wife gets contact lens solution – it’s a hell of a lot cheaper, it’s about at least 35 to 40% cheaper than you pay elsewhere,” he said.

“This has been a key bone of contention for numerous government enquiries going from the 2014 Commission of Audit, the Harper competition review, multiple Productivity Commission reviews, and the Grattan Institute, all of those have argued that we need to deregulate the pharmacy sector just as has occurred in other places like the UK and Canada and even the United States and New Zealand.

“We’re pretty much one of the only countries left in the developed world that has such restrictive rules.”

Responding to last week’s comments by the discount giant’s chief operating officer Mario Tascone in Fairfax media last week – in which Mr Tascone urged the Federal Government to stop “propping up” community pharmacies through the location rules and other regulations – Mr Van Onselen said he found the comments encouraging.

“Hopefully they’ve got the clout to actually force the politicians’ hand and to stand up against the Pharmacy Guild we’ll see what happens, hopefully get some reform and if we don’t we’ll be waiting another five years,” he said, calling the Community Pharmacy Agreements a “sweetheart deal” with the Government for the Guild.

“Ultimately it should be in the consumer’s hands to decide what’s best for them, not getting dictated to and quite frankly price gouged through these sort of archaic rules that don’t’ exist elsewhere,” he said.

Anthony Tassone noted the timing of the flurry of media commentary on the Pharmacy Guild and the rules.

“With the community pharmacy agreement negotiations underway it’s no surprise that opportunists agitate who seek to fulfil their own interests, and not those of the Australian public, attempt to undermine our community pharmacy model that delivers patient satisfaction and equitable access to PBS medicines,” he said.

“Prior to the pharmacy location rules, which have received bipartisan support for almost 30 years, we had market failure. We had more community pharmacies in areas the public didn’t most need them servicing a smaller population.

“We don’t need to re test the definition of insanity in returning to a previous approach that we know didn’t deliver the outcomes Australians want, deserve and are receiving currently—hoping for a different outcome,” he told the AJP.

“With the current location rules framework, 87% of the Australian population live within 2.5km of a community pharmacy making them more accessible than other major services including; banks, medical centres and even supermarkets and convenience stores.”

He slammed the proposals to “unravel the community pharmacy model,” which he said was “fuelled by self-interest that isn’t in the public interest trying to invent a solution to a non-problem”.

“It’s a myth that supermarkets offer lower priced medicines compared to pharmacies,” he said.

“In a 2015 price comparison study by CHOICE comparing the price of medicines sold in supermarkets and pharmacies found that ‘In general, pharmacies equalled or beat supermarkets on price when comparing brand for brand, and with larger pack sizes available in pharmacies, the price per dose was even cheaper’.

“Myth busted!”

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