Woolworths and pharmacies and community benefit

Good to see The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia get some press this week basking the giant Woolworths and their push to get pharmacy only prescription sales into their supermarkets. Their media release makes some excellent points:

Protecting public health is more important than Woolworths’ profits and should be the primary consideration in any government decision over whether to allow pharmacies in supermarkets, Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Vice-President Frank Payne said today.

“Until now Woolworths’ sole argument for entering the pharmacy industry has been based on financial considerations, with managing director Roger Corbett claiming that Australians pay too much for medicines,” Mr Payne said today.

“But yesterday Mr Corbett put forward the argument that allowing pharmacies in supermarkets would increase consumers’ access to prescription medicines, saying the move would ‘significantly broaden the community’s access to expert, professional pharmacist advice’.

“How? Virtually every shopping centre incorporating a Woolworths store already has a pharmacy, as do most smaller centres and country towns with more than a few hundred people.

“PSA is concerned that allowing pharmacies in supermarkets would undermine the progress that has been made in ensuring the safer use of medicines within the community, the so-called Quality Use of Medicines principles.

“In addition, the existing shortage of trained pharmacists would be exacerbated, with remote areas the first to suffer as staff are drawn to large population centres.

“Location restrictions were initiated by government as a way of promoting equality of access to subsidised PBS medicines and associated pharmacy services throughout Australia, not just large population centres. While such restrictions have been identified as a barrier to competition, we should not lose sight of the policy’s objectives.

“The push for enhanced competition is understandable, and perhaps even justified, but care needs to be taken with any proposed reforms to ensure that the outcomes are an improvement for patient care.

“PSA would argue strongly about the need for equality of access to pharmaceutical services across Australia – not just large population centres – as a guiding principle to determine the degree to which change is justified.

“Mr Corbett claims that Australians pay far too much for pharmaceutical products, something not borne out in any international comparison, but he does not talk about a duty of care.

“PSA believes that a pharmacist exercising professional responsibilities should not be influenced by commercial considerations – the health of the community is paramount.

“Does anyone seriously believe that supermarkets will not let commercial considerations take precedence over impartial health advice? Remember, supermarkets sell cigarettes and alcohol, two of the major cause of disease and death in Australia.

“We do not believe that ownership by entities whose primary focus is not on the provision of professional health care will enable pharmacists’ professional obligations to be met.

“Pharmacists should, in their working environment, not be so encumbered by other requirements that they are not able to fully and freely exercise their professional judgements.”

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia is the organisation that represents the interests of Australia’s 16,000 professional pharmacists.

Tower Systems does not sell systems to pharmacists. Our interest in this matter is the unreasonable pressure by big business against small business in pursuit of profit under the guise of community service.

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