Workforce, remuneration and $1 copay impact rural pharmacy


Taroom Pharmacy.

The Guild is advocating to address issues facing rural pharmacy, such as one-size-fits-all remuneration

Writing in Pharmacy Guild newsletter Forefront, executive director David Quilty has outlined some of the issues facing rural pharmacies, including in areas currently affected by drought.

“With many regional communities battling the terrible drought and with their access to essential services under threat, the role of the local pharmacy has never been more important,” Mr Quilty writes.

“There are regular reports of patients waiting weeks to see a doctor while in some communities the lack of access to bulk billing is leaving struggling families to cope with high out-of-pocket health costs, further exacerbated if they have to travel long distances to get medical care.

“If you live in a smaller rural town, the local pharmacy is not only your first port of call when a family member is sick but may actually be your only readily accessible local health care provider.”

He points out that there are more than 1000 community pharmacies across regional Australia, 400 of which are in one-pharmacy towns.

Many of these pharmacies, he says, are struggling with business challenges that need to be addressed in order to retain access to health care for locals.

“First and foremost, rural pharmacies—including many that operate in larger regional centres— consistently report that they cannot attract pharmacists in spite of the fact they offer salaries higher than those being offered in the capital cities and assist with other costs such as rent,” Mr Quilty writes.

“Federal and State Government financial support to assist with rural pharmacy workforce issues is minimal compared with other health professions, including GPs.  

“While there is no magic solution, a community pharmacy regional workforce strategy is urgently needed, which should focus on the policy changes and financial incentives required to attract and retain pharmacists in rural areas.

“The current ‘one-size-fits-all’ system of pharmacy remuneration does not recognise the additional labour, freight and travel costs faced by rural pharmacies, including those pharmacies that serve the medicine needs of remote Aboriginal communities.

“Additionally, the $1 optional co-payment discount is not offered by smaller rural pharmacies, disadvantaging their patients compared with those in capital cities and large regional centres.

“Finally, the current regulatory and funding environment does not take into account the broader health role of rural pharmacies, which effectively are local community health hubs given the lack of access to other health services.”

Mr Quilty writes that arguments against an expanded scope of practice for pharmacists hold no weight in rural communities, where there is no easily accessed alternative for services such as vaccination, health screening and preventive health, or for timely treatment of minor ailments or continuing medicines without a prescription.

“The Guild is advocating to have these important issues addressed.  

“Our task is to ensure that the interests of rural pharmacies and their patients are high on the agenda of all political parties.”

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