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Self-interest driving ownership change agenda, senior Guild leader says

The calls for changes to the regulations around the ownership of community pharmacies are being by financial self-interest, not patient care, says Anthony Tassone, president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia (Victoria).

Speaking to AJP this week, Mr Tassone said “the motives of those calling for opening up of pharmacy ownership both within and external to our profession are very questionable and appear more about fuelling self-interest rather than the public or patient interest.” 

His comments followed from a recent column he wrote in a Guild Victorian branch member newsletter which was highly critical of the stance of the AMA and other medical groups that have been calling for changes to ownership regulations.

“The renewed call by doctors’ groups to open up pharmacy ownership to non-pharmacists beggars belief given the medical profession’s own experiences with corporatisation,” Mr Tassone said in this column.

“For reasons we can only ponder, the AMA and the Royal Australian College of GPs seem fixated with pharmacy regulation, urging regulators to open up pharmacy to the same corporate forces that have had such a negative impact on medical care”.

A number of submissions to the ongoing Queensland Parliamentary inquiry into establishing a pharmacy council, and other pharmacy regulatory issues, have recommended deregulating the sector. 

As well as calls from the AMA and RACGP, Chemist Warehouse and Ramsay Health have also called for deregulation. 

CWH co-founder Damian Gance appeared before a public hearing as part of the inquiry and said that, instead of retaining the current pharmacy ownership rules, owners should instead be subjected to a “fit and proper person” test, which could see corporate owners act more ethically than pharmacist owners.

“Whilst I can appreciate the historical context and at least fathom the rationale for the introduction of these laws, I contend wholeheartedly that they have no place in a modern Australia,” he said.

The Queensland Branch of the AMA said in its submission that it “agrees that control of medicines dispensing should remain the responsibility of registered pharmacists, however the current ownership restrictions prevent the development of healthcare models that could benefit patient care.”

Mr Tassone said the Guild’s research showed patients preferred the current model of pharmacy ownership.

“As part of its submission to the Harper Competition Policy Review in 2015, the Guild commissioned the Institute for Choice at the University of Adelaide to undertake a qualitative survey of consumer preferences for community pharmacy relative to alternative models of service delivery.

“This analysis confirmed that 89% of consumers trust their local pharmacists very highly or completely. Two-thirds of respondents supported the principle that professionals like pharmacists should own the businesses they work in,” he said. 

“Why would we seek to unravel a model that consumers and patients prefer and have trust in just to serve the self-interest of a minority of stakeholders?”

Click here to read Mr Tassone’s comments in full

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