Ignore double dispensing, pharmacy begs practice

4 minute read

Community pharmacies are encouraging GPs to keep patients paying twice the fees, as part of a large-scale campaign against the new rules.

Last week’s federal budget confirmed that 60-day dispensing will become a reality from September this year, effectively halving the cost of 300 common PBS medicines for Australians.  

The fact that the measure, which will generate an estimated $1.6 billion in savings over four years, has been signed, sealed and (almost) delivered has not stopped the Pharmacy Guild and community pharmacies from campaigning against the change.  

Before the official budget announcement, the Guild launched the essential medicine shortages website, which features form letters for people to contact their local MP and a petition to “demand action on Australia’s essential medicine shortages”.  

It also contains downloadable flyers, posters, social media tiles, shelf wobblers and email banners. 

At time of writing, the petition has been signed by 64,605 people.  

Another petition launched before the budget but still gaining signatures, this one directly from a community pharmacist rather than the Guild, has 26,125 signatures so far.  

As various health ministers – Mark Butler, Ged Kearney and Emma McBride – hold post-budget press conferences and interviews across the country, questions on how to ensure the viability of community pharmacy roll around like clockwork.  

In the 10 days following the budget release on May 9, Ms McBride, the Assistant Rural Health Minister, has answered pointed questions about the potential impact of 60-day dispensing at no less than four of her 10 media engagements.  

At least one pharmacy has taken the issue beyond petitions and written to a neighbouring GP clinic, requesting that doctors ignore double dispensing lest it lose business.  

The letter, sighted by The Medical Republic, says the introduction of 60-day dispensing will cost it around $175,000 in lost revenue per year, forcing it to lay off a third of its staff.  

It also warns of an increased risk of accidental overdose for elderly patients and the loss or reduction of services like low cost Webster-paking, blood pressure monitoring and sharps disposal.  

But there is one way, the letter says, for general practice to save local pharmacy: make patients pay the fees they no longer have to pay, especially those who can least afford it.  

“You can support us by continually writing 30-day supply where possible, particularly for those who are on webster packs, the elderly and vulnerable,” it said. 

Doing so would mean that elderly and vulnerable patients pay more per year for their medicines than people on 60-day scripts.  

Other talking points in the letter include medicine shortages, promised reinvestment of funds being for services already provided free of charge by the pharmacy and the forecast losses to the local healthcare community.  

It is not clear whether the pharmacy wrote the letter on its own initiative or whether it was part of a wider Guild-led campaign to sway general practice. The Pharmacy Guild did not respond to our request for comment.  

The policy is set to roll out in stages, with the first still three months away, but pharmacists claim that the workforce impact is already being felt.  

Days after the policy was first announced in April, Pharmacy Guild president Professor Trent Twomey stood outside parliament house with tears in his eyes, claiming that young community pharmacy owners were already going bankrupt due to double dispensing.  

According to reporting in the Australian Journal of Pharmacy, at least four Bachelor of Pharmacy students in Tasmania have dropped out in favour of another degree upon hearing the news.  

Extended dispensing limits are already the norm in countries like the UK, New Zealand and Canada.  

By coincidence, these are the same countries that the Guild often points to as examples of high-quality pharmacy programs when discussing pharmacist-led prescribing.  

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