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Pharmacy closes ahead of new rule that’s feared will make regional chemists ‘unviable’

Montville pharmacist Natalie Lindner

A hinterland town is set to lose its only pharmacy in what’s been described as a direct result of the loss of its GP service and an impending government policy.

On the back of Montville’s Ochre Heath closing in January, the upcoming closure of its pharmacy is feared to be part of a domino effect on the town’s businesses.

Montville Pharmacy owner Natalie Lindner said she was forced to make the difficult decision to close her business at the end of this month because it was no longer viable.

This was due to several business pressures, including the federal government’s upcoming 60-day dispensing policy.

“This difficult decision has been a triple whammy of difficulties that have all come at a similar time,” she said.

“Our local community have been very supportive and I’m thankful to them for that. However, when you don’t have a doctor in a community, it does have a domino effect and our pharmacy has significantly suffered as a result of that.”

She said another major difficulty was the impending policy, which she believed would make community chemists “unviable”.

From September 1, the 60-day dispensing policy allows patients with chronic health conditions to receive two months’ supply of medicines in a single script, instead of one month’s supply.

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Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler said the government was delivering cheaper medicines through the 60-day prescriptions for more than six million Australians.

“This will halve the cost of medicines for more than six million Australians, including pensioners, who are living with an ongoing health condition,” he said.

“Dispensing medicines is complex and critical, but it’s not the only reason Australian pharmacies are so highly valued.

“Every single dollar saved by the government will go back into pharmacy services, so pharmacists can play an even more central role in the healthcare of Australians.”

Ms Lindner said the policy would reduce the cost of living for Australian, which was a good outcome.

“But they’ve gone about it in a way that’s meant that funding we have in our dispensary is drastically reduced – halved in fact – which means we cannot keep doing what we’re doing and maintain viability,” she said.

“The government made a promise that no pharmacy and no community and no patient would be worse off as a result of this policy, but it just simply wasn’t true.

“They made a promise that funding would be reinvested in the community pharmacy sector, but at this stage that has not been done in a way that is equitable.”

Montville IGA owner Ann Wells said she was sure there would be a “fallout” from the GP closing, and now the pharmacy.

“Please, local people keep coming in to support us so that we can keep going,” she said.

Federal Member for Fisher Andrew Wallace echoed Ms Lindner, calling the closure a triple whammy for the community.

He said a recent petition he tabled in parliament pleading for the federal government to improve regional incentives to address GP shortages in Montville had fallen on deaf ears.

“Natalie and I have worked really hard, as has the local chamber of commerce to try and prevent this from happening,” he said.

“We’ve now got a very sad situation.

“The government made no modelling … what we’re seeing here is a clear demonstration that the policy is not sufficient to really make pharmacies viable.”

Ms Lindner thanked her staff for working tirelessly and the community for supporting them with the petition.

“Our petition was replied to a couple of weeks back, basically saying there’s nothing that can be done about our rural classification,” she said.

Ms Linder revealed there was a silver lining to the “difficult” situation – she would continue to provide the community with pharmacy services, after a successful merger with the Mapleton Pharmacy.

“We are really thankful we’ve had this opportunity to merge, but other small pharmacies may not have an opportunity like this, in order to keep servicing their community,” she said.

“We are both impacted in a way, but by joining together we can offset some of those costs and maintain viability.

“We are also planning to have a pick-up point in the local IGA here, because we want to encourage people to still come into Montville to do their regular shopping.

“We will be offering a delivery service to the Flaxton and Montville area which aims to assist our customers with this change.”

The Montville chemist will officially close on Saturday, July 29. The new Mapleton chemist, Lindner Family Pharmacy, will operate from Monday, July 31.

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