This model, of course, reserves profit-making ownership of pharmacies to registered pharmacists. Dispensing Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicines and other health services are secondary considerations in the guild’s thinking.
But who actually owns a pharmacy business shouldn’t matter. When it comes to community pharmacy, regulation should focus on just four things: making sure pharmacies are fit for purpose; drugs are stored safely and dispensed correctly; services are provided by appropriately qualified and trained pharmacists and support staff; and the professional services of a pharmacy are always supervised by a qualified and experienced pharmacist.
What relates to the business side of a pharmacy, including who owns it; where he is ; the contracts he concludes; and who may take a pecuniary interest in the business, are irrelevant so long as a pharmacist is in professional charge of a pharmacy. Yet all of this is regulated to the nth degree. The Australian Federal Community Pharmacy Agreement takes all of these restrictions as given, but adds very prescriptive rules about where a pharmacy can be located to dispense PBS drugs.
The former chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organizations Australia, Peter Strong, was wrong to characterize in these pages community pharmacies and their owners as Australian petty fighters, struggling to run their small businesses in the small and regional. Certainly many are, and these are more likely to offer full professional services, including not only dispensing, but also personalized pharmacist advice.
But under “banner group” arrangements such as Priceline, and in particular the aggressively entrepreneurial big-company model of industry giant Chemist Warehouse, Strong’s case falls apart. Chemist Warehouse is a masterclass in building a large, centralized, highly lucrative business, while remaining completely within the stifling rules of federal and state ownership and location. Good luck to them.
No company should assume the right to be protected from competition in an open market, let alone be protected by law. But in pharmacies, that’s how it is. As it stands, even if I was a pharmacist wanting to set up shop next to an established pharmacy, I can’t.
The Community Pharmacy Agreement imposes rigid location rules, guaranteeing existing pharmacies unrivaled patches of up to a mile radius – and under certain conditions, even more. The even more rigid administration of these rules by the federal government’s Australian Community Pharmacy Authority, which the guild takes a keen interest in, ensures that any pharmacy owner has a guaranteed area that they can serve in a remarkable way, with mediocrity or as mediocre as he choose.
But even the location rules are not as sacred to the Pharmacy Guild as the legislative restriction of pharmacy ownership almost entirely to registered pharmacists, even if they are retired and relaxing on a beach in Noosa. This is what drives the guild’s resistance to Woolworths, Wesfarmers or any other non-pharmaceutical entity entering the field, either indirectly as with the Woolies and Wesfarmers competition on the API, or directly in terms of removing property restrictions and let them in directly.
So, there was an ominous kick in the guild statement last week. “We look forward to having many conversations … with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on these important issues,” he said. In other words, if the guild does not get absolute commitments from the Coalition and the Labor Party to protect the property reserved for pharmacists, there will be political havoc on the high streets of the marginal seats when the federal elections will strike.