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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Pharmacy ownership bill sparks outcry: Government accused of prioritising lobbyists over public health

Health Industry Hub | March 13, 2024 |

Pharma News: In a contentious move that has stirred heated debate, a parliamentary committee has recommended supporting the Pharmacy Business Ownership Bill 2023, a decision that has drawn sharp criticism from medical associations.

QLD Health Minister Shannon Fentiman introduced the bill to parliament in November 2023, following years of lobbying spearheaded by the Pharmacy Guild. The proposed legislation aims to impose restrictions on pharmacy ownership, sparking concerns about limited access to essential medicines, particularly for vulnerable populations. Under the bill, only certain pharmacists would be permitted to own a pharmacy, a move that has been branded as anti-competitive and detrimental to consumer choice.

Leading medical bodies, including the Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) and the Australian Medical Association (AMA), have vehemently opposed the bill, urging for a complete overhaul of Queensland’s pharmacy ownership and location rules.

Dr Cathryn Hester, Chair of RACGP Queensland, expressed frustration over the lack of progress in reforming the sector. While a pharmacist can own a general practice or a dental surgery, GPs and dentists cannot own a pharmacy.

“Review after review has recommended the removal of pharmacy location and ownership rules,” she stated. “The proposed regulations will continue to stifle competition, limit consumer choice, and slow improvements across the sector.”

The bill’s implications are particularly alarming for high-risk populations, as emphasised by Dr Maria Boulton, President of AMA Queensland.

“Removing pharmacy ownership restrictions to enable Aboriginal health services to own and operate pharmacies would support commitments made by all governments in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

“It is outrageous that the Queensland Government is completely disregarding its own Closing the Gap commitments with these unnecessary, anti-competitive regulations that only serve to entrench the power of existing pharmacy owners. This Bill should be rejected entirely,” she argued.

Critics argue that the bill favours the interests of corporate pharmacy owners at the expense of consumers.

Dr Hester asserted “Enough is enough, we need change to put Aussie consumers first. The current restrictions protect the vested interests of a few large corporate pharmacists who already own their patch, rather than improving access to medicines for those struggling to afford them. The rules were established at a time when most pharmacies were small community pharmacies, but now most pharmacies are owned by large corporate entities.”

Moreover, concerns have been raised about the transfer of pharmacy regulation responsibilities to a new council, a move viewed by opponents as catering to the demands of powerful lobby groups.

“The sole reason for this new council seems to be because pharmacy owner lobby groups wanted it. There is no evidence it will provide greater community safety – or that community safety is at risk in the first place – or be more cost-effective.

“We have raised our concerns about how this Bill was developed with the Crime and Corruption Commission. The Queensland Government must explain why it has put the wishes of powerful lobbyists ahead of the healthcare outcomes of First Nations Queenslanders,” Dr Boulton stated.

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