WHEN pharmacy owners as a group of professionals get upset by government policy, you usually find out about it when you go and have your prescriptions filled.
There will be placards or banners and petitions for you, the customer, to sign.
Because almost every adult has to have prescriptions filled, sometimes or regularly, campaigns by pharmacists are very effective. They are campaigns with great reach, as they say. Governments fear such campaigns. This is what gives Australian pharmacists enormous political power.
It’s political power exercised through you, their customer.
Pharmacists have used that power to make things very cushy for themselves.
They have shut out competition, for example.
By law, the owner of a pharmacy must be a pharmacist registered and accredited in the state or territory in which they operate.
So, a pharmacy must be owned by a pharmacist. Not necessarily by the pharmacist that fills your prescriptions. Somebody can be hired to do that and in most cases is. But a pharmacist must own it.
A pharmacy can’t therefore be owned by a company or an entrepreneur.
This shuts out a lot of competition.
For example, supermarkets could easily employ pharmacists to dispense medicine, but supermarkets tend to be public companies or franchises of a company.
Woolworth and Coles have tried hard to break into the retail pharmacy business. No luck. However you may feel about big supermarkets getting into the pharmacy business, the fact they failed illustrates the power of the pharmacy lobby.
But pharmacists don’t just keep Woolies and Coles out, they keep everyone out!
If a young pharmacist fresh out of uni wants to establish a new pharmacy, it must be at least 1.5 kilometres from the nearest established pharmacy and within 500 metres from this new pharmacy there has to be either a GP and a big supermarket (say 50 by 20 metres) or no GP but an even bigger supermarket (say 100 by 25 metres).
If you want to set up a new pharmacy in a shopping centre, you can only do so if there’s no established pharmacy in that shopping centre and sometimes if there’s no other pharmacy within 500 metres of that shopping centre.
These rules prevent anyone from setting up a new pharmacy near a supermarket or in or near a shopping centre.
But say you want to start up a pharmacy somewhere where there are no GPs or big supermarkets, typically in a small country town. In that case, it can’t be within ten kilometres from an established pharmacy.
These are just some of the rules keeping young pharmacists out. Some of the rules, because there are more. Just in case.
So, next time a pharmacy asks you to espouse a political cause of theirs, keep this in mind.
Pharmacies are the last closed shop in Australia and you do not come first in their thinking.
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