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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Community pharmacy braces for budget ‘pain’, but bright spots remain

Health Industry Hub | May 10, 2023 |

Pharma News: The new 60-day prescription dispensing arrangements have many pharmacists worried about a significant decrease in foot traffic and dispensing fees. However, the federal budget indicates that the funding cuts will be reinvested back into the sector.

Pharmacists will be funded to administer National Immunisation Program vaccines ($114.1 million over 5 years) at no cost to patients, and the 50,000+ Australians who need treatment for opioid dependency will have funded support to access the treatment they need from the pharmacy ($377.3 million over 4 years).

The total budget for the Regional Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance will be doubled ($79.5 million over 4 years). Patients will also have continued access to medication management and dose administration aids programs, with funding for community pharmacy programs increased ($654.9 million over 4 years).

Despite these announcements, the Pharmacy Guild National President, Trent Twomey, said “The government’s forecast of a loss of $1.2 billion to pharmacy is wrong. The figure is more like $3.5 billion being ripped out of community pharmacies. How many pharmacies will close after the impact of this crazy policy is felt?”

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) National President, Dr Fei Sim, also opposed the new 60-dispensing policy, despite widespread support from consumer and medical groups. She said “The PSA was not consulted on the introduction of 60-day dispensing and we continue to hold serious concerns for its impact on the viability of community pharmacy in particular. Questions remain about how the program will be implemented, and pharmacists need a seat at the table to ensure we can continue delivering the pharmacy services Australians rely on.”

Community pharmacists have sparked controversy with anti-government advertisements in response to the 60-day dispensing policy starting 1 September 2023. This is despite Westpac and the Pharmacy Guild reporting that spending in pharmacy has increased by 33.7% in January 2023.

Priceline Pharmacy is among those facing boycotts for displaying political flyers, authorised by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, that criticise the government and suggest consumers are at risk of prescription medicine shortages due to major pharmacy reform.

The Consumer Health Forum (CHF) is supportive of the 60-day dispensing policy and has expressed disappointment over the community pharmacy tactics, calling the anti-government messaging “concerning”. The organisation said on Twitter “Patients go to pharmacies for professional health advice and to fill a script – and now some are handed this extra messaging? It’s a step too far.”

Acting Director of the Australian Patients Association (APA), David Clarke, said “We are supportive of the concept of some drugs being dispensed for longer periods which is a benefit in terms of time and cost savings to patients. There are definite patient benefits in this initiative if it is well implemented, but we would especially like to hear from government on how it intends to deal with the supply chain challenges, the viability impacts on smaller community pharmacies, and any community education investment it intends to make to underpin safety issues associated with extra drugs in households.”

The first 100 medications to be listed include some of the most common medicine for type 2 diabetes, depression, reflux, ulcerative colitis, heart failure, high cholesterol, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Mr Clarke added “We are calling on the government to provide further detail on how it plans to mitigate the potential negative impacts of this policy, so that it achieves all of the successful outcomes planned”

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