Pharmacies could feel hot breath of competition
The AMA has argued patients will be the winners if proposals to abolish arcane rules stifling competition in the pharmacy sector are adopted.
Chair of the AMA Council of General Practice Dr Brian Morton said recommendations from the Government’s Competition Policy Review to remove restrictions on the ownership and location of pharmacies would improve patient access to medicines.
The Review, chaired by prominent economist Professor Ian Harper, found that rules that prevent new pharmacies opening within 1.5 kilometres of an existing outlet and require that only pharmacists can own a chemist shop did nothing to enhance access to medicines or improve the quality of advice to consumers.
“Current restrictions on ownership and location of pharmacies are not needed to ensure the quality of advice and care provided to patients,” the Review concluded. “Such restrictions limit the ability of consumers to choose where to obtain pharmacy products and services, and the ability of providers to meet consumers’ preferences.”
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has rejected the assessment, arguing that current arrangement have served patients and the community well.
“We believe that pharmacies should be owned by small business people trained in universities, trained in the art of pharmacy, and we don't think that they deserve to be in huge supermarkets that don't have your health care as number one priority,” Guild President George Tambassis said.
But Professor Harper said industry opposition to allowing supermarkets to provide pharmacy services had been undermined by the fact that a Queensland pharmacy that incorporates an IGA outlet recently received an industry award.
He told ABC Radio that “the pharmacy industry has no difficulty with supermarkets being inside pharmacies. They've just awarded a prize for a pharmacist in Queensland who's allowed IGA Express to open up a business inside the pharmacy. That doesn't seem to be the issue.”
Professor Harper said rules on location and ownership did not apply to medical practices or private hospitals, and “we see no reason why they should apply to pharmacies either”.
He said there was no intention to change the authority to dispense medicine, which would always remain the prerogative of “licensed professionals”.
But the Review said current anti-competitive rules did nothing to improve access to medicines, particularly for people living in remote and rural areas.
It said Government could use community service obligations and tenders for the provision of pharmacy services in under-served areas to ensure rural patients had access to prescription drugs, noting that the “supply of medicines in remote areas is already partly conducted through channels other than retail pharmacies, including through Aboriginal health services. That is unlikely to change, even if the current pharmacy location and ownership rules are reformed”.
Published: 07 Apr 2015