Publication Date 01/04/2014         Volume. 6 No. 3   
Information to Pharmacists

Editorial

From the desk of the editor

Business is tight!
Cash flow has evaporated!
The PGA calls for unity while simultaneously dismembering the business of consultant pharmacists.
The federal government continues to strip massive funds from the PBS to the extent that it is gasping for air.
Oh, and I forgot, the Revive Clinic thinks that pharmacists cannot vaccinate patients in community pharmacies ( It is actually a warehouse pharmacy group trying to destabilise the market here to push fellow-pharmacists off balance by supporting the Revive group).
Even wage-earning pharmacists have discovered that they have not had a rise in their pay over the past five years

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Location Rules Dented

Peter Sayers

articles by this author...

Peter Sayers is vitally concerned about pharmacy professional practice - its innovation, its research and development, and its delivery to create an ongoing revenue stream. Delivery of healthcare is increasingly involved with Information Technology systems. All perspectives in IT must be considered for the impact on pharmacy practice and its viability.

There has to be something wrong when one-third of a local community signs a petition to get something done.
Such was the case in the Victorian town of Colac when three local women decided that the service from the two local pharmacies (having a common owner) had dropped to an unacceptable level, and that prescription prices had also reached an unsupportable level.

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Ruth Spokes, Faye Roscoe and Jeanette Sell, after a chat in the local car park, met with Polwarth Liberal MP, Terry Mulder.

It was decided to launch a petition.

An astounding 4,479 people signed it while Terry Mulder lobbied directly or indirectly, the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The PGA immediately rallied behind Colac pharmacist Alec Pappas, who decided to rectify the problem by installing a robotic dispensing machine as a solution.

A ceremony marking the installation was attended by Maurice Sheehan, state director of the Victorian branch of the PGA and Geoff Isles, the CEO of the Colac Area Health service.

But this was too little and too late. Momentum had already gathered and attitudes had hardened. Nobody was prepared to wait and see if a fairer business solution would be the result. 

Nicola Roxon was requested to use her ministerial powers to create a third pharmacy licence for Colac, waiving the 1.5km location rule.
She agreed to review the application.

The petition eventually reached the Senate and was debated on the 8th September 2009. It was introduced by Michael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Special Minister of State), who said:

“I rise tonight to raise an issue of such significance to the people of Colac, in Victoria, that 4,479 people signed a petition calling for action. The petition was presented to the Senate today and has been incorporated in Hansard. This number of petitioners is remarkable in itself. What is even more remarkable is that the 4,479 signatures were drawn from a population of approximately 12,000 people. So what is the issue? The wording of this petition speaks for itself. It reads as follows:

To the Honourable President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled:

The petition of the undersigned shows:

That the Colac district is in need of an additional pharmacy to service the needs of the community.

Your petitioners ask/request that the Senate:

Immediately call upon the Government to facilitate an additional licence to dispense medicine in Colac without further delay to improve competition, accessibility and choice for the members of the community.

By the standards of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, you would need four pharmacies to service a population of this size in adequate fashion—one per 3,000 people. But in Colac today there are only two pharmacies, both of which are owned and operated by the same company. That means that Colac is 50 per cent under-resourced when it comes to pharmaceutical services. So not only is there a pharmacy shortage problem in Colac; there is also a monopoly problem. As a result, there is a rising sense of dissatisfaction in the community.” 

Bowing to the voice of the people, Nicola Roxon agreed to create a third licence that was announced on the 9th April 2010.

To not have done so would have meant that the community of Colac would have had to take their case to the High Court of Australia.

That would have opened a Pandora’s Box and created a forum for all those opposed to the existing location rules, for inevitably the rules would have been tested as a restraint on trade.
And most likely, the Colac community would have won.

 The significance of this result is as follows:

1. The minister has created a precedent for breaking the apparently impregnable location rules legislation, allowing for others to follow on in the wake of the decision and ease pressures, particularly in rural locations.

It is the first time ever that a minister has used the power to create a licence outside of the parameters of the rules.

2. On any future occasion when a request for a new licence occurs (one not exactly fitting in with the existing rules), if the minister of the day refuses to intervene, the opportunity for High Court action immediately opens up.

I can imagine any number of pharmacy investor groups with the financial resources to launch an action, will be busily planning strategies for such an eventuality.

3. The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has consistently relied on legislation to reinforce their view of community pharmacy which has translated into an unbalanced pharmacy profession, principally in the suppression of clinical services and the difficulties facing young pharmacists when attempting to establish their own pharmacy practices.

Nor has there been any planning for the retention of senior pharmacists, particularly in the role of mentors.

A crack has opened up in the location rules and this will eventually lead to more disruption in pharmacy before it levels out once again.

So many opportunities have been wasted or lost.

Meanwhile, the owners of the new pharmacy, David Christofidis and Michael Georgy, can now get on with life and develop a true community pharmacy service. They know they have the visible support of one-third of the community and that would probably double when the silent members of the community vote with their feet.

As we have often stated in this publication, only members of the PGA can change the attitudes and values of their leaders. In the case of the two original Colac pharmacies, there is now the potential for a considerable financial loss (over time) for unreasonably following PGA location rules.

 

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