AMA cries foul on Queensland pharmacy bill

4 minute read

A Guild-backed bill would further restrict the operation of pharmacies in the state, while a register reveals frantic Guild lobbying in 2022.

A bill before Queensland Parliament falsely asserts that the AMA Queensland and RACGP were properly consulted on proposed pharmacy ownership changes, according to the AMAQ.

The Pharmacy Business Ownership Bill was introduced by state Health Minister Shannon Fentiman in November, the culmination of a Pharmacy Guild-led push that began in May 2018.

Its main feature is a pharmacy ownership regulatory council, which will take over Pharmacy Ownership Act 2001 enforcement duties from Queensland Health.

The bill also seeks to prohibit third parties from “exercising inappropriate control” over how pharmacy services are provided and retain the limit on the number of pharmacy businesses that one person can own or have an interest in.

According to the Guild, which represents non-corporate community pharmacy owners, the provisions will prove vital in keeping community pharmacy operating in patients’ best interests.

“The corporate owner can operate the service in a way that is more for the benefit of profit than people,” Pharmacy Guild Queensland president Chris Owen told the Queensland Parliament Economics and Governance Committee today.

“[It can do this with] with no requirement for professional oversight from the pharmacy business owner, who as a pharmacist is professionally bound to provide health services the best interest of the patient.”

The Pharmacy Guild’s Queensland branch wields a lot of political power.

According to new research in the MJA, the pharmacy owners’ organisation was in contact with state-level Queensland politicians 150 times over the past three years. This was more than double the next-highest group, the QLD Taxi Licence Owners’ Association.

Using raw data from the Queensland Lobbying Register, The Medical Republic found that the majority of those contacts – 85 of them – occurred in February and March 2022.

Queensland’s last state election was in 2020, but news of the North Queensland scope-of-practice trial had been leaked to the public in January that year.

The spike was largely made up of what appear to be one-off interactions with the various electorate officers of sitting politicians across the state.

When asked, the Queensland Pharmacy Guild declined to give any detail on the purpose of this spate of meetings.

“The [Pharmacy Guild of Australia] is compliant with all disclosure requirements as per Queensland legislation and makes no apologies for working hard to achieve positive outcomes for community pharmacists and Queensland patients,” a Guild spokesman said.

Intense pushback on the bill has come from the RACGP, AMAQ and the Productivity Commission. Even the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia has expressed its concern.

Most of the criticism has centred on the anti-competitive nature of the proposed measures.

RACGP Queensland chair Dr Cathryn Hester called the pharmacy ownership rules “archaic” and called for them to be stripped back entirely.

“Pharmacists should be free to provide professional services from any primary care location, including nursing homes, general practice and other allied health care settings,” she told the parliamentary hearing.

“General practitioners should be able to store, supply and administer medications to their patients on their practices, especially in rural and remote locations.”

General practice, she pointed out, had long been deregulated, yet still managed to adhere to professional standards.

Much of the discussion at the hearing focussed on the fact that restrictive pharmacy ownership laws prevent Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations from owning and operating their own pharmacies.

“I spent five years looking after general practice training in Northern Territory, working with remote communities, and that issue about point of care [pharmacy] and having access … was so important,” AMAQ CEO Dr Brett Dale said.

“Provisions or exemptions [for the community-controlled sector] must be a consideration for this bill, at a minimum.”

The AMAQ has also disputed the bill’s explanatory notes, which claim that Queensland Health had conducted two rounds of consultations in October 2022 and February 2023.

“It is patently false to claim … that Queensland Health consulted with AMA Queensland and the RACGP in October 2022,” AMAQ president Dr Maria Boulton told media.

“AMA Queensland and the RACGP never received the consultation documents in October 2022 and made serious remonstrations to Queensland Health in early 2023 when this failure was realised by both organisations.

“It is inexcusable that such a misleading statement has been included in the explanatory notes.”

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