The panel reviewing Australia's pharmacy sector is due to issue its interim report shortly.
It has received a lot of advice from the sector, but it may be preparing to put its own stamp on the debate. The panel has commissioned a number of independent reports to assist its analysis.
This includes consumer market research into the attitudes, expectations and experiences of Australian consumers and practising pharmacists, and targeted consultations with Consumer Health Forum member organisations, also seeking to identify consumer attitudes and priorities.
The panel is also analysing literature on the models and real experience of deregulation in overseas jurisdictions.
Pharmacy peak bodies, wholesalers, discount chemists, not-for-profit friendly societies, hospital owners, think tanks and individual pharmacies have all had their say, and it won’t be possible for the panel to please everybody.
Notwithstanding the self-interest bias of many submissions, the material submitted to the panel includes a number of useful suggestions including possible compromise models.
What could a compromise look like?
- Staged removal of location rules in urban areas, following an appropriate transition period. Building out, location rules could first be removed to allow co-location of pharmacies and metro medical centres/GP clinics and to allow co‑location with metro public and private hospitals of any size. Then, location rules could be abolished entirely in the metropolitan area. Government generally has very little difficulty in grouping metro, regional and rural areas.
- Many regional areas contain small private hospitals. Location rules could be revised to permit private hospitals to offer broader pharmacy services but otherwise retained to ensure the viability of pharmacists who serve those communities.
- Ownership rules have been an anomaly in this sector for many years and should be abolished. The idea that private hospitals, aged care facilities, pharmaceutical manufacturers, pharmaceutical wholesalers, medical clinics and allied health businesses can all be publicly owned but pharmacies must only be owned by registered pharmacists does not make sense.
- An extended role for pharmacy within the primary care sector should be supported. However, pharmacists should support and integrate with medical practitioners, not the other way around.
- The cost of publicly funded medicines and the way in which it is distributed should no longer be the subject of bilateral negotiations between the Department of Health and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. As a number of submissions noted, the Guild represents community pharmacists but not the whole sector. Best practice strategic planning between government and industry requires a much broader and independent approach to stakeholder management and consultation.
- During the transitional period, additional quality and training frameworks should be developed to ensure qualifications and the monitoring of professional development is suitable for pharmacists performing an expanded range of services. While there are clear opportunities for pharmacists to undertake a broader range of services as part of an integrated healthcare model, their training and expertise needs to be appropriate for expanded services.