The pharmacy owners’ association has engaged a silk to advise whether the government broke the seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement.
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has officially called off the dogs when it comes to 60-day dispensing but has hired an expensive barrister to look into turning the Community Pharmacy Agreement into an iron-clad contract.
It comes as the independent pharmacy advocacy body CAPS (Community and Pharmacy Support Group) stages a Canberra protest against the revenue cut that community pharmacies will see as a result of extended dispensing.
Last week, protest organisers told The Medical Republic that the group was hoping for a turnout of about 5000 pharmacists, pharmacy assistants and likeminded supporters.
At midday, the group livestreamed itself taking the “pharmacist oath” and encouraged pharmacists tuning in around the country to do so as well.
The oath appears to be an American tradition and includes promises to devote oneself to a lifetime of services through the profession of pharmacy as well as embracing and advocating for changes that improve patient care and advance health equity.
The group reportedly went on to cause disruptions during question time with loud heckling and jeering, and were subsequently booted from the chamber by Speaker Milton Dick.
CAPS is a NSW-based group that has existed on and off since the 1980s.
While it now claims to be fully independent from any existing pharmacy groups, according to an account contained in the authorised history of the Pharmacy Guild, CAPS was originally “none other than the Sydney zones of the Guild … joined by [Wollongong and Newcastle]”.
A spokesperson for the group told TMR that CAPS comes together to speak up about pharmacy matters that affect the community in which they practice and “have generally disbanded once the fight is won”.
Now that the Guild has agreed to suspend its own campaign against extended dispensing, it remains to be seen whether CAPS will continue fighting.
Not an organisation to waste time, the Guild reportedly started negotiations on the 8CPA on Wednesday last week, two days before 60-day dispensing came into effect.
The RACGP is one of the stakeholder groups invited to consult on the agreement.
It’s set to be hammered out in record time, with a new agreement to commence on 1 March.
“We thank the Prime Minister and the Health Minister for hearing our concerns and 60-day dispensing, along with other reforms, will now be dealt with in the normal way under a Community Pharmacy Agreement,” Guild president Associate Professor Trent Twomey said.
According to the Australian Journal of Pharmacy, Professor Twomey told Guild members at the Pharmacy Connect conference in Sydney on Friday that it had hired a King’s Counsel “at great expense” to advise on whether the body has “recourse for damages over the breaking of the current [CPA]”.
The lawyer will also reportedly look at making the 8CPA more robust, taking it from what Professor Twomey describes as a “gentleman’s agreement” to a contract.
As Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun reporter Sue Dunlevy pointed out, the CPA is always negotiated in relative secrecy, and already contains a clause that means dispensing fees increase if there is a significant fall in the number of scripts filled.
This situation arose in 2017, when pharmacists received around $43,000 per pharmacy to account for a shortfall in scripts.
In 2019, Dunlevy writes, former Health Minister Greg Hunt appeared to admit that taxpayers were underwriting pharmacy businesses when he told the pharmacy parliamentary dinner that the LNP promised “certainty” and “bankability over your businesses”.
This story was updated with further detail on the CAPS protest at Parliament House