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Op-ed: 60-day dispensing bad medicine for regional Australia

Regional Queensland Pharmacy

Sixty-day dispensing may sound good, but dig a little deeper and it’s rural and regional Australia that will pay, writes Trent Twomey of the Pharmacy Guild.

Some of you may remember the Joni Mitchell song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ with the verse, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”

It may as well be the theme song for 60-day dispensing, where pharmacists will be required to dispense two months’ worth of medicine for the price of one month.

I fear patients won’t realise the true impact of 60-day dispensing until the pharmacy they’ve got, is gone.

And by then it will be too late.

Our concerns have been justified by an independent report published recently.

The review was carried out by respect economist Henry Ergas AO along with Tulipwood Advisory and the Relational Insights Data Lab at Griffith University.

It found the policy will lead to the loss of 20,818 community pharmacy jobs and the closure of 665 pharmacies nationwide.

However, it is in the regions the policy will be felt the most.

That’s because in rural and regional Australia it’s the local community pharmacist which is often not just the first point of primary healthcare, it’s the ONLY point of primary healthcare.

In fact, there are 332 localities in Australia where there is a pharmacy, but there is no GP surgery.

Now the federal government is implementing a policy, without consultation, which will make it impossible for many of these pharmacies to survive.

And when they close, patients in these affected areas will have to drive further and longer just to get medicine.

So much for the government’s line “patients will be better off”.

The Health Minister, Mark Butler’s response so far is, “Every single dollar saved by the government will go back into pharmacy services,” but his Department’s figures just don’t add up.

His government’s own impact analysis says on average each pharmacy stands to lose $158,000 per year as a result of the 60-day dispensing policy. The independent report says 60-day dispensing will rip $4.5 billion out of the frontline healthcare sector and yet the federal government says it is “re-investing” $1.2 billion.

That’s like me borrowing $4,500 from you, paying back just $1,200 and saying, “the debt is settled”.

If you don’t believe me, there are already pharmacies throughout Australia that have already had to lay off staff and shorten trading hours.

But that’s not all.

Soon you’ll feel the effect with cuts to free services such as blood pressure monitoring, diabetes management, Webster packs for the aged, and home delivery of medicines.

These are all services which the current dispensing arrangement helps pay for and keeps your local pharmacy‘s doors open for longer.

Unless the government delays the implementation of 60-day dispensing, as has been recommended, you will see more of these cuts and closures from September when the policy is in place.

I hope it doesn’t come to this and we are urging the government to come up with a proper solution.

Because if it doesn’t, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”  

Trent Twomey is National President of the Australian Pharmacy Guild.

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