AMA won’t dispense with push to change pharmacy rules

The AMA will continue to lobby the Government for changes to pharmacy ownership and location rules, saying allowing chemists to dispense in general practice would be a good outcome for patients.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has so far not warmed to the idea. He is negotiating a new Community Pharmacy Agreement that he says will be finalised in December and kick in from mid-2020.

“We have a very, very clear set of rules regarding pharmacy ownership which follows in fact the recent reviews and we, through a bipartisan approach, reaffirmed those rules in the Parliament in the course of the last two years,” Mr Hunt told reporters.

“So we’ve only just re-legislated in this space and there are no plans to change that.”

The AMA says having GP-owned dispensing pharmacists inside GP clinics is world’s best practice.

“It’s also about improving health outcomes,” said AMA President Dr Tony Bartone.

“And that’s what the evidence has shown right around the world, when all members of a healthcare team work in collaboration together with the patient, with their file, with their records, with their history all together in the one location.”

Dr Bartone said the AMA would press on with its advocacy for change in this area.

There are currently strict laws controlling who can own a pharmacy and where new pharmacies can be located.

AMA Vice President Dr Chris Zappala said it was regrettable that the Government does not yet appear willing to consider change.

“I think they got it wrong. Anyone can own a doctor’s practice; anyone can own any business really in this country. I mean, why pharmacists should be so protected that a pharmacy is only owned by an elite small group of pharmacists is beyond understanding, to be perfectly honest,” Dr Zappala told the ABC.

“And it seems to be that there’s a bit of protectionism going on, and I’m not quite sure how the community is served by having that to be the case. And I do not think, when you speak to pharmacists in general, I do not think that all pharmacists are in favour of that sort of exclusivity that exists in that way.

“So, if we believe in free market forces and convenience and all the rest of it, then that means that if there are alternative models of dispensing and pharmacy that are actually good for the community and good for patients, then we should look at them. And if the current rules of restrictive ownership block that sort of innovation and evolution, then they are a problem.”

The AMA has formed a new General Practice Pharmacy Working Group to drive policy, strategy, and advocacy on pharmacy and dispensing, and to provide the Government with strategic AMA general practice input to the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement.

The Working Group was created following an urgency motion passed at the last meeting of the AMA Federal Council.

The new Working Group will consult with the AMA Council of General Practice to develop an advocacy blueprint on new dispensing models.

Currently, some pharmacists are working as non-dispensing pharmacists in general practice. Known as GP pharmacists, they cannot dispense.