THE Australian Government and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, a pharmacy union which represents 5,700 local Australian pharmacies, are negotiating a new deal regarding rules that protect small pharmacies.
The Guild is fighting to maintain the protection that independent pharmacies currently receive. Independent pharmacies are locally and individually owned. These independent stores have to compete with other stores that join large pharmacy chains. A pharmacy chain is where individual pharmacies choose to trade under the same name such as ‘Chemist Warehouse’.
Independent pharmacies argue that they cannot compete with the discounts that chain retailers can provide. For that reason, the Guild is fighting to abolish $1 discounts to pensioners’ Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) scripts that pharmacy chains offer, but most individual operators do not.
Individual pharmacies are important components of the health system and the community, but should consumers be punished for smaller pharmacies’ inability to match competitive prices like that of Chemist Warehouse?
In New Zealand, pharmacies began offering pensioners free prescriptions to get more customers through the door.
The removal of protections for individual pharmacies in Australia would allow for more competition which would drive down prices.
Similarly, supermarkets like Coles and Woolworth’s have been lobbying for years to be able to include pharmacies in their stores.
The Pharmacy Guild, however, is a powerful industry lobby, donating to both sides of politics. It is this power that keeps in place the so-called 6CPA – Location Rules, designed to stop competitors from setting up shop close to an existing pharmacy.
In the heat of this battle it is essential that the convenience of local, independent pharmacies remains. The protection of independent pharmacies means that people do not have far to travel to fill their scripts. If protection was removed it might mean further travel to pick up your scripts and for some that is simply not an option.