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Victoria left without 24-hour pharmacies after state government cuts funding

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  • In Short: Victorians no longer have access to any pharmacies past midnight under changes introduced from January 1.

  • The Pharmacy Guild says government funding cuts have led to pharmacies shortening their hours of operation on short notice.

  • The government defended the move, saying the demand for its Supercare pharmacies, which offered after-hours services, had decreased due to other alternative services being offered.

It was around 3pm on New Year’s Eve when Katie Raj realised her sore throat was getting much worse. 

By midnight, Ms Raj and her partner Ari were searching on the internet for 24-hour pharmacies, hoping to get a script for tonsillitis medication filled.

Arriving at a pharmacy in Balwyn after midnight, the couple were shocked to find a sign stating that as of January 1, it was closed for the night.

As it turns out, Ms Raj had arrived just after a government policy change which has seen pharmacies across the state cut their opening hours.

“It was a sense of defeat … we missed it by less than two hours,” she said.

“All I wanted was something to get the pain out.”

The couple then attended an ear, nose and throat hospital in Melbourne, where they faced an hours-long wait for treatment behind other patients. 

“We don’t want to be putting a strain on the emergency room, but you kind of have no option if the pharmacies aren’t open past midnight,” Ms Raj said.

“You can’t control when you’re going to get sick.”

Government shrinks Supercare pharmacy program from 2024

The Victorian government established Supercare pharmacies in 2016 to help reduce pressure on busy emergency departments.

However, out of the original 20 Supercare pharmacies running across the state, just eight are still operating seven days a week.

From the first of January, those eight pharmacies stopped operating 24 hours a day.

The Pharmacy Guild now says there are no longer any community pharmacies in Melbourne where residents can have their prescriptions filled after midnight, creating a six-hour gap in pharmacy services across the city.

The guild also said it was not aware of any community pharmacies that offered 24 hour services across the state.

The Department of Health attributed the changes to a lack of demand for the services of Supercare pharmacies.

“As a result of other government investments demand for Supercare Pharmacies has decreased significantly and they are no longer required in some areas,” a Department of Health spokesperson said.

“The Government has established a range of alternative options for Victorians to get urgent care including Priority Primary Care Centres and the Victorian Virtual Emergency Department, for less urgent care people can still visit their local GP or call Nurse-on-call for free professional health advice.”

However, none of the 29 Priority Primary Care Centres across Victoria operate past midnight, meaning those with urgent medical needs in the early hours of the morning may still be funnelled into emergency departments at hospitals.

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Pharmacy guild disappointed with ‘mind-blowing’ decision

Paul Krassaris, the acting president of the Victorian branch of the Pharmacy Guild, and said the move was disappointing.

He said the Pharmacy Guild had been informed the decision was primarily based on funding cuts.

“If the funding wasn’t cut, these pharmacies would continue to open,” Mr Krassaris said.

“Speaking to a lot of the owners, even if they were breaking even with the funding, they would continue to open up.”

Mr Krassaris said while providing value for taxpayers was important, the closing of overnight pharmacies risked shutting out entire sections of the population.

“There’s a lot of shift workers that are working odd hours, they’re on their way home, they need to get something at two o’clock in the morning, they’re not accounted for anymore,” he said.

He said pharmacies were told just six weeks before the change, leaving them little time to warn their customers.

“Six weeks to pivot, it’s not long enough, it’s not long enough to put out information,” he said.

Mr Krassaris said from a patient’s point of view, it was upsetting that a resource like 24-hour pharmacies was disappearing.

“Emergency departments are great for certain things, but they already stretched and they’re very centralised,” Mr Krassaris said.

“If you needed something urgently and in the middle of the night, there was a fallback — we’re not going to have that fallback … it’s just mind-blowing.”

Ms Raj said she would much rather have gone to a pharmacy than an emergency department.

“But what choice do you have when you’re feeling that terrible?”

Image by DCStudio on Freepik.

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Via Judd Boaz
Source ABC News

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