Pharmacists share concern over planned change to medication dispensing

ON 26 April the office of Australia’s Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon. Mark Butler, announced a significant reform to the nation’s policies regarding prescription medication.

As a part of the financial strategy of the Labor government, citizens with chronic medical conditions that require regular medication may be eligible to receive a supply for 60 days at a time, double the current limit, for the same cost per prescription.

The 60-day dispensing policy will provide doctors with the option to prescribe a two-month supply of more than 320 medicines on the PBS, including medicines for conditions such as heart disease, cholesterol, Crohn’s disease and hypertension.

Dubbed ‘60 Day Dispensing’ the announcement has made waves in the media, with Butler promising the policy would save Australians up to $180 per year, with fewer visits to pharmacies and clinics necessary.

“Australian pharmacies already do much more than just dispense medicine and the Government is supporting our trusted pharmacists to play an even bigger role in the healthcare of Australians,” Mr Butler said.

Pharmacists, however, have begun to speak out in opposition to the policy change and they are making their convictions clear.

National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Trent Twomey, said there’s no guarantee that patients will receive the medicine they need or that pharmacies wouldn’t close as a result of this new policy, and this, he says, is worrying.

“This is a $3.5 billion cut to patient care across every single community in Australia and that should worry patients,” Professor Twomey said.

Local pharmacists in Port Stephens have banded together in support of the sentiment shared by the vast majority of the Pharmacy Guild.

Richard Buckley of Anna Bay Pharmacy is deeply concerned at the impact the policy will have on smaller pharmacies, particularly in rural areas.

“Pharmacies use the funding from dispensing medicines to allow us to provide lots of subsidised services which the public enjoy for free,” said Richard.

“Without these fees we will struggle to offer those services.”

Starting a social media campaign to raise public awareness of the concerns surrounding the policy, the team of pharmacists at Amcal+ Salamander Bay are calling upon members of the community to join a petition asking the government to reconsider its plans.

“The 60 day dispensing policy by the Albanese Federal Labor government was a decision made by politicians without a single thought of the consequences to patients, and to the viability of pharmacy,” they posted to social media.

“These changes will create medication shortages, create a higher risk of medication misadventure and medication wastage – there will be further repercussions.”

Owner and pharmacist Scott Elsegood of Terry White Chemmart Nelson Bay said that with medications already difficult to reliably source, 60-day dispensing is set to make a problematic situation even worse.

Moreso is the fact that some of the medications listed on the scheme are for complex mental health issues.

“Even at 30 days sometimes it’s inappropriate for people,” he said.

“Increasing that to 60 days, particularly if they hoard it, could just be diabolical and could break down families and other relationships.”

Jamie Pisani of Shoal Bay Pharmacy believes that the government may be overstating the potential benefits to the public.

“We are keen to see a result that gives our patients increased convenience and real savings, without losing the ability to deliver quality service,” James said.

“Many of our most vulnerable patients may not see the benefits of these reforms, so I think it’s important that these policies are scrutinised and given the proper attention they deserve.”

Sharing this position with colleagues and professional peers, Dora Antonas of Discount Drug Store in Nelson Bay wants the community to know that there is no division amongst pharmacists on this issue.

“We are all standing together on this,” she said.

“This is going to affect us all the same way.

“We may work in different businesses, and in some ways we can be in competition with each other, but on this we completely support one another.”

By Lindsay HALL

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