Health Department goes to war with Guild

5 minute read

The pharmacy lobby broke discussion protocols and probably harvested personal data to campaign against double dispensing, it says.

The gloves are off between the Department of Health and Aged Care and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia over double dispensing with the government saying there was “work to be done” to restore trust between the two parties. 

In Thursday’s Senate Estimates hearing, it was revealed the DoHAC and the Guild had agreed to discussion protocols that prohibited public discussion of the content, but that, according to the government, the Guild violated them.  

Health Minister Mark Butler told The Australian the Guild “chose to break their non-disclosure agreement with government prior to the announcement of this policy for their own reasons”.  

The Guild denies this and says Butler’s office gave it the green light to communicate the proposed policy to its members.  

A letter sent on Wednesday by Penny Shakespeare, deputy secretary of the DoHAC’s health resourcing division, to the Guild said the lobby group had “effectively excluded itself” from further consultations on the 60-day dispensing proposal because it had not addressed this breach of agreed pre-budget discussion protocols. 

Speaking to Senate Estimates today (Friday), Ms Shakespeare confirmed the letter had been sent. 

“While it is pleasing to hear that the Guild is ready, willing and able to enter into further discussions with the department given the Guild’s breach of its confidentiality obligations under the discussion protocols, it is clear that any further discussions cannot occur under the auspices of the discussion protocols,” the letter reads. 

“Furthermore, the Guild has not adequately addressed its breach of the discussion protocols that was raised in my letter, dated 24th of April 2023. Through its actions, the Guild has effectively excluded itself from policy implementation discussions, because it has failed to address those issues.” 

Ms Shakespeare then said the department was more than happy to enter into further discussions with the Guild “if those issues can be addressed”. 

Ms Shakespeare confirmed that DoHAC consulted with the Guild about the 60-day dispensing proposal on 6 April, 12 April, 14 April, 17 April and 20 April 2023.  

“During the 20 April meeting it became clear that the Guild was releasing information more broadly outside the discussion protocols of those meetings, and there have been no further meetings with the Guild since then,” said Ms Shakespeare. 

Under questioning from Liberal Senator Anne Ruston today, Senator Katy Gallagher, who is representing the Minster of Health at the hearings, revealed that although the Minister had informed the Guild on 28 March of the government’s intention to go ahead with double dispensing, the Guild had not been informed of the full list of 325 medications which would be involved until 20 April, just six days prior to the public announcement. 

Ms Shakespeare said the confidentiality protocols were instigated because the discussions were occurring “in the context of the budget”. 

“There was actually a process that they could have followed to say, ‘well, we need to share this with our membership’, but they chose not to do that,” she said. 

Senator Gallagher said the government was determined to go ahead with double dispensing. 

“We are going to implement this policy,” she said. “It would benefit everybody, if we could deal with the breach of confidentiality, and then get back to working together about their members’ interests and in delivering the outcomes, which is cheaper medicines for millions of Australians. That would be the ideal outcome.” 

Meanwhile, the Guild is “likely” to have used personal data, including email addresses and phone numbers, from their covid Find-A-Pharmacy website to fuel its campaign against the 60-day dispensing proposal. 

Labor Senator Anne Urquhart told Senates Estimates today that her constituents were telling her they had been emailed by the Guild, pointing them to a website telling them the double dispensing plan will “make it harder to access health services and will mean those who need accessible, affordable health services the most will suffer”. 

According to Senator Urquhart, some constituents then received a follow-up text message from the Guild despite never having any interaction with the Guild other than using the Find-A-Pharmacy website.  

Ms Shakespeare told the hearing that the DoHAC believed it was “likely” the Guild was using personal data harvested from the website. 

“That has not been confirmed, but, yes it is likely,” Ms Shakespeare said, also saying that her own son had been texted by the Guild. 

The fine print on the Find-A-Pharmacy website says “by submitting my details, I agree to the [Guild’s] privacy collection notice”. There is no option to opt-out of that clause. 

The Guild’s Privacy Collection Notice says: “The Guild may also use your information for direct marketing in relation to The Guild and associated services. We use your information to promote the services and issues affecting community pharmacies across Australia, as well as keeping you up to date on services that we think will interest you. This marketing may be by email, phone, SMS, post or online.” 

Ms Shakespeare refused to offer an opinion on the ethics of the Guild’s campaign or use of the data but said the department “has been concerned”. 

“This might discourage people from taking part in websites like that,” she said. 

When asked if the department had sought advice from the police or other agencies about the use of the data, Ms Shakespeare said their advice was that recipients of the emails and texts could take their complaints to the Privacy Commissioner. 

End of content

No more pages to load

Log In Register ×