Remain calm - Pharmacy has a bright future
With the federal government confirming the transition to 60-day dispensing in last week's budget for more than 300 PBS-listed medicines for stable, chronic health conditions, the Pharmacy Guild stepped up their efforts to overturn the measure. They are also encouraging pharmacy owners to review their service offerings, opening hours and staffing requirements for when these changes are phased in from 1 September.
Professional Pharmacists Australia (PPA) is calling on its members and all pharmacy employees to remain calm. Despite the response of the Pharmacy Guild, the future for pharmacists is brighter than they want you to believe.
Calling out Poor Behaviour
PPA understands employees' concerns with the 60-day dispensing reforms, and we have expressed these concerns directly in meetings with the Minister for Health and Ageing.
PPA President Leon Yap says it is essential for pharmacy workers to understand that the role of the Pharmacy Guild is to represent employers' interests, while the union's role is to advocate and represent the interests of workers in the sector.
"PPA is receiving disturbing reports from members since the announcement of this policy, ranging from being pressured to participate in political protest action by bosses and having targets set for the number of patients they can get to sign a petition against the policy to having their bosses openly telling them their jobs are at risk or having job offers revoked."
"While there may be a cost borne by the owners of community pharmacies due to these reforms, PPA does not believe that pharmacy employees should not bear the brunt of any employer decisions."
"PPA has advised members on their rights, and I would like to remind them to call PPA for support if they are being subjected to this type of behaviour in their workplaces."
Ensuring Medication Supplies are available
Although medication shortages have been a long-term issue in Australia due to our reliance on global supply chains, the federal government has committed to working closely with the medicines industry to ensure an adequate supply of medicines is maintained during the transition to 60-day dispensing and beyond. As part of this commitment, from 1 July 2023, the Medicines Supply and Security Guarantee will come into effect, where manufacturers will be required to hold a minimum of either 4 or 6 months' stock in Australia for certain PBS-listed medicines, referred to as 'Designated Brands'. Coupled with the staged introduction of 60-day dispensing, the federal government is confident that the mass shortages predicted by some in the industry will not occur.
Other Budget Measures and Why 60-day Dispensing is Not "The End" for Pharmacy
The 60-day dispensing reform, which was first recommended by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) in August 2018 and again in December 2022, is scheduled to be phased in over 12 months in 3 stages, beginning on 1 September 2023, 1 March 2024 and 1 September 2024.
It will bring Australia into line with many other comparable countries such as New Zealand, Canada and the UK. It will significantly reduce out-of-pocket costs for over 6 million Australians and provide greater ease of access to vital medication for community members with chronic illnesses.
An estimated $1.3 B will be reinvested into community pharmacy, including :
- $654.9 million to fund the remaining years of the 7CPA programs
- $377.3 million to make Opioid Treatment Program accessible through the PBS
- $111.8 million for electronic-prescription delivery infrastructure and services, including mandating the use of e-prescribing for high-risk and high-cost medicines
- $114.1 million for community pharmacies to administer eligible National Immunisation Program (NIP) vaccines
- $79.5 million to double the Regional Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance to ensure the ongoing viability of around 1,093 rural and regional pharmacies due to reduced dispensing income
Leon Yap has questioned whether the impact of the reforms will be as severe as some are predicting in light of the existing pharmacy landscape and the overall package of measures announced in the budget.
"We know that pharmacy workers have been dealing with massive workloads in community pharmacy for years, which has already caused many pharmacists to experience burnout and leave the industry altogether. In conjunction with post-pandemic staff shortages, these high attrition rates are further exacerbating the workload issues of pharmacists who have remained on the front lines. So it's tough to reconcile this with the pharmacy employers' campaign that they may need to sack up to one-third of the workforce due to the 60-day reforms."
"There may be an overall reduction in dispensing required within a pharmacy. However, this will allow pharmacists more opportunities to move beyond the dispensary and outside the four walls of the pharmacy with the move to full scope of practice, the introduction of embedded aged care pharmacists and an increasing role in primary care, which were recognised in the budget."
Non-Dispensing and alternative career pathways supported in the budget
PPA has always supported initiatives that provide members with diverse career and employment opportunities both within and outside of community pharmacy. Given this, we are pleased with the federal government's commitment to advancing pharmacists' scope of practice and enhancing opportunities for their inclusion in multidisciplinary and team-based care. This includes providing:
- $350m to fund community pharmacies to employ pharmacists to work on-site in residential aged care homes in a clinical role
- $445.1m to incentivise general practice to employ more nurses and other health professionals, including pharmacists
- $98.9m investment for multidisciplinary care in hospitals, and
- $79.4m towards Primary Health Networks commissioning to support multidisciplinary teams in under-serviced communities.
PPA was also pleased to hear about the National Scope of Practice Review later in the year and that Minister Butler has committed to PPA having a seat at the table t for this critical review.
We will also continue our advocacy for employee pharmacists with the government as part of the broader health reform agenda. We want to see more investment in workforce development, including professional development and skills, pay rises and better working conditions, recognising that while our highly trained employee pharmacists are a critical part of Australia's health workforce, they remain one of the most under-utilised and lowest paid professions.
To all PPA members, thank you for being part of an organisation dedicated to seeing that change.
If you are a member of PPA and would like advice about your rights at work, you can contact your Workplace Advice and Support (WAS) Team on 1300 273 762, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
PAA members can get more information on dealing with the Guild protest actions here.
If you are not yet a PPA member, back yourself, back your colleagues and join us today.