National president, Pharmacy Guild of Australia
This has been a significant year in the history of community pharmacy in Australia, largely because 1 July saw the commencement of the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement (6CPA).
The 6CPA is already delivering considerable benefits for Australian healthcare consumers, and there will be more over the coming four years. While we didn’t get everything we wanted for community pharmacy in the Agreement, it is a balanced outcome which has many positives for the sustainability of local pharmacy small businesses.
We remain opposed to one aspect of the Agreement — namely the optional discount of up to $1 on the patient co-payment. As we have made clear, we regard this as bad health policy because it breaches the universality of the PBS and delivers no benefit whatsoever to the sickest and neediest patients — that is, those who reach the safety net.
We also saw the extension of the location rules, which underpin the equitable distribution of pharmacies across the continent, to mid-2020. These rules ensure that community pharmacies are appropriately spread across the country, meeting the needs of people for medicines and services wherever they live.
In accordance with the Agreement, there is now an independent review of pharmacy remuneration and location rules underway.
The Guild will work constructively with the Expert Panel on the basis that they will take an objective and evidence-based approach to their task. We certainly welcomed the appointment of the distinguished Victorian community pharmacist Bill Scott to the Panel.
The Guild agreed to the Review during the 6CPA negotiation as a means of informing pharmacy remuneration for the Seventh Agreement and addressing any anomalies around the location rules, which have been legislated to mid-2020.
Beyond the agreement
2015 has been an eventful year in many other ways. For example, community pharmacies are involved in the trial sites for the new My Health Record, including in the Northern Queensland primary health network. Community pharmacy wants to be involved and must be involved in personal electronic health records to maximise its value across the health system.
Last month, we saw the very welcome decision of the delegate of the Secretary to the Department of Health to defer a decision on the upscheduling of codeine containing products. This was a commonsense response.
We see the time provided by this deferral as an opportunity to press ahead with a solution to the problem of codeine misuse and dependency that does not involve depriving millions of Australians of their current access to these important medicines.
The Guild has developed a prototype system for real-time recording and monitoring of codeine purchases, which helps to identify consumers potentially at risk and provide clinical referral pathways. We will press ahead with the deployment of this system. The Guild also supports mandatory front-of-pack warnings about the potential for addiction, and increased consumer education.
The Guild sees harm minimisation and support for patients and families of patients with addiction problems as a vital part of our responsibility to the community. For this reason, we have recently adopted a Social Responsibility strategy which focuses on assisting the fight against substance misuse and addiction.