Pharmacists protest as business outlook plunges

3 minute read

A small white-coated contingent took to Sydney streets to raise awareness about the perils of 60-day dispensing.

Fears over the incoming 60-day dispensing rules prompted some community pharmacists to march through Sydney’s CBD in protest today, as a survey finds sentiment about the future of community pharmacy turning sour.

This morning a contingent of white-coated pharmacists associated held a rally outside Sydney’s Town Hall.

The “walk for awareness” was hosted by the NSW-based Community and Pharmacy Support Group and was not affiliated with either the Pharmacy Guild or the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

They claimed that there were around 2000 pharmacists in attendance.

The walk coincided with the release of the 2023 instalment of the Commonwealth Bank’s annual community pharmacy report, which is produced in association with the University of Technology Sydney and healthcare analytics company IQVIA.

While it’s true that confidence in the future value of the sector has dropped to its lowest point since the survey began, 60% of respondents still said they felt neutral about the future viability of the sector.

Compared to last year, it’s an increase of around 5% in people reporting a neutral outlook.

The real shift was in the extremes: the number of people with an optimistic outlook dropped from 42% to 10% while the number of people with a negative view on the future of community pharmacy went from just 4% to 30%.

“That most pharmacists are neutral, even amid a broad consensus that 60-day dispensing would adversely impact value, may reflect lingering uncertainty,” the report said.

It comes just a week after the federal opposition failed a motion to delay the start of 60-day dispensing, the first stage of which is set to go live from 1 September.

Under the policy, doctors will be able to write scripts for two-month supplies of some medicines – but with the same number of repeats – effectively halving the number of times that people will be required to visit a pharmacy.

In the three months since 60-day dispensing was confirmed in the federal budget, the policy has drawn the ire of the politically powerful Pharmacy Guild.

Last week, it predicted that the anticipated fall in revenue would force community pharmacies into charging aged care patients an extra $800 each year for their medicines to be Webster-packed and delivered, even though Health Minister Mark Butler has committed to reinvesting all savings from the initiative back into the sector.

While Mr Butler dismissed the guild’s assertion as a “cynical scare campaign”, the CommBank data does appear to at least partially back up the lobby group’s claim.

Four in five pharmacists said they would begin charging for complementary services in the wake of double-dispensing and up to three-quarters are keen to take on prescribing roles.  

One pharmacist told The Australian that he planned to start charging $10 to $15 for a blood pressure check, a service he has previously performed for free.

Other popular strategies that pharmacies are considering in the face of double dispensing include reducing pharmacy assistants and increasing the professional services on offer.

Just less than half are considering reduced opening hours or reducing the number of pharmacists they employ.

Just under a third are considering reducing the professional services being offered.

“Despite these strategies being prompted by the advent of 60-day dispensing, many aligned to growth opportunities most pharmacists identified in November [2022],” the report said.

“These included professional services, vaccinations, and the new addition of prescribing even before most state governments publicly supported expanding pharmacists’ scope of practice.”

This story was amended to reflect the turnout at the pharmacy rally.

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