Convenience store push to sell medicines met with pharmacist resistance

Matt Woodley

12/08/2019 4:21:44 PM

But should restrictions on pharmacy- and pharmacist-only medicine be reviewed?

Customer being served at a 7-Eleven.
The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores would like to see medication sold in locations such as 7-Elevens and petrol stations.

The peak body representing convenience stores believes rules governing pharmacies should be relaxed to allow more competition within the sector, according to reports.
Jeff Rogut, chief executive of the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores, reportedly said customers would like to see prescription medication available in stores such as 7-Elevens and petrol stations, due to the convenience of the high number of locations spread across Australia.
‘When we do surveys of our customers, pharmacy ranks up there with things like postal services as one of the top items they would like to see in a convenience store,’ Mr Rogut told Nine newspapers.
‘The reason why is because of the extended hours, the ability to park easily, get in and out quickly and do all the things they want to do ... it would save them time and be more convenient.’
Dr Evan Ackermann, past chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care, told newsGP there is scope to review access to some Schedule 2 and 3 medications.
‘A lot of them are [essentially] over-the-counter medications and should probably be allowed to have some wider distribution … limiting these sort of drugs to pharmacy- or pharmacist-only has just pushed the prices up,’ he said.
But he said it would not be appropriate to provide prescription-only medicine outside of pharmacies.

A Federal Government-commissioned 2015 competition policy review also recommended replacing some current restrictions with regulations that ‘do not unduly restrict competition.’
The recommendations were not implemented.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is currently negotiating the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement with the Pharmacy Guild and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA), expected to be finalised by the end of the year.
Dr Mark Morgan, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care (REC-QC), told newsGP the deregulation of pharmacies to increase choice and access could be a positive move, providing patient safety is not reduced.
‘My view is that pharmacists are best engaged as part of GP-led primary care teams providing medication education for patients, dispensing expertise and working with GPs on medication governance,’ he said.
‘I would like to see a defined role for pharmacy assistants so they are not serving up pseudo-medical advice to sell products of little benefit.’
However, he also said clinical services should be subject to Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) processes, rather than be enrolled into the industrial negotiations around Community Pharmacy Agreements.
Previous agreements have enforced strict rules around pharmacy locations, ownership, and the discounting of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medication for pensioners.
This time, there is increased division within the pharmacy sector after Australia’s largest pharmacy retailer, Chemist Warehouse, lobbied the Federal Government to overhaul the latest agreement in a bid to increase competition and improve access.
But Pharmacy Guild national president George Tambassis responded by defending the current rules as ‘beneficial for the public’ and claiming there is ‘ample evidence of competition’ within the sector.
Despite this, Dr Ackermann believes the current regulations have in many cases created a monopoly over medication sales and supply.
‘Pharmacists are supposed to establish a diagnosis or establish a reason for people taking Schedule 2 or 3 medications, but they often don’t and instead it’s often the pharmacy staff that [facilitate the sale],’ he said.
‘It goes back to why these drugs were made pharmacist- and pharmacy-only in the first place … it’s a worthwhile discussion to pursue – who should be allowed to supply these sort of medications?
‘Even though retail pharmacy is not the best place to think about pharmacy, the business side of it is so strong you can’t get rid of it. So if you can’t get rid of it, then you have to start making policy that recognises [that].
‘You couldn’t say it is appropriate for all Schedule 2 and 3 medications to be made available outside of pharmacies, it would need a review. But if it is a retail environment, make it an environment that everyone can access.’

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Ian MacDonald   13/08/2019 6:18:23 AM

Interesting response from the usually powerful pharmacy lobby.