Greens leader calls for more transparency in pharmacy funding

Doug Hendrie

16/10/2018 3:09:42 PM

Richard Di Natale has described the Pharmacy Guild of Australia as one of the most powerful lobby groups in Australia.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale at the GP18 conference.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale at the GP18 conference.

Leader of the Australian Greens Richard Di Natale has called for more transparency in the way multibillion pharmacy agreements are negotiated in Australia.
‘Some describe [the Pharmacy Guild] as the most powerful lobby group in Canberra … [t]hey are powerful because politicians give them that power, by conceding it to them,’ he said at the recent RACGP annual conference.
‘Politicians don’t like picking fights with people in white coats.’
Senator Di Natale, who was a GP before moving into politics, told a packed auditorium at the conference he was shocked when he learned how the five-yearly Community Pharmacy Agreements (CPA) were negotiated.
He described the agreements as ‘backroom deals’ that are ‘negotiated on the back of an envelope’, and said future health ministers will have to tackle the issue.
‘You wouldn’t allow that anywhere else. We’ll be doing everything we can to make sure every aspect of [these] agreements is subject to public scrutiny,’ he said.
Dr Evan Ackermann, immediate past chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care and long-time critic of the Pharmacy Guild, prompted the discussion by asking Senator Di Natale if the Guild had ‘undue influence’.
‘I applaud Senator Di Natale. He had the guts to come out and say this at last. There’s too much closeness between business groups and politics,’ Dr Ackermann told newsGP.
‘These agreements are all done behind closed doors. They should be done [openly] for the sake of transparency and the appropriateness of public expenditure.
‘Thirty years of Pharmacy Guild involvement in the CPA hasn’t really helped get to efficient delivery of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme [PBS] medicines. We’re still seeing a lot of money going to big business in pharmacy – not the professionals, more the business owners.’
After the sixth CPA was signed in 2015, Senator Di Natale said the Federal Government had not addressed a major audit critical of the previous agreement’s processes.
He told the Sydney Morning Herald that it is not possible to evaluate if the CPA represents value for money.
‘It’s still a negotiation between two parties that’s very opaque. We should know at least the terms and conditions on which the agreement is based. The worst thing about it is they get away with it. The audit office report comes in damning and the whole caravan moves on,’ he said.
In 2015, the Australian National Audit Office released a critical audit of the CPA negotiated in 2010.
The audit found the CPA lacked transparency and failed to deliver an expected $1 billion in savings. It also found that the amount paid to pharmacies by the Government had tripled in real terms since the first CPA was signed in 1990.
Last year’s major Productivity Commission report, ‘Shifting the Dial’, recommended that the Government move away from a community pharmacy model in favour of a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model where the majority of locations had machine dispensers supervised by people with substantially less training.
The independent Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation – known as the King Review – similarly called for the use of machine dispensing.
However, the Government has since ruled out the use of machine dispensing.
Earlier this year, the RACGP opposed efforts by the Pharmacy Guild to expand the scope of pharmacists in Queensland and questioned the Government’s decision not to accept recommendations by an independent review of the pharmacy sector.
The Pharmacy Guild described the King Review as ‘fundamentally flawed and inherently damaging’ and said it had been ‘hijacked by a combination of ideology and economic theorising leading to conclusions that would dismantle, if not destroy, the community pharmacy model’.

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Sasi   4/11/2018 9:58:59 AM

No point in putting statements out and fool the gps . We need some action . Sick of RACGP and AMA