An escalation in the rhetoric over the Australian Government’s 60-day prescribing policy has led to calls for Australians to “find the facts”.  

Health care consumers are being reassured that the Government’s 60-day prescribing plan will save them time and money, despite a recent escalation in the public debate about the policy.

The tone of the debate has prompted the Consumer Health Forum (CHF) to launch a new website where consumers can find out more about the change in policy.

“Consumers have been concerned by the alarmist nature of many media reports around this issue and this is why we have produced the microsite and we encourage doctors to direct their patients to the resources there,” CHF CEO, Elizabeth Deveny, told InSight+.

The website went live last week and has information about the changes, which have been tested with consumers.

About the reforms

Earlier this year, the Government announced many patients living with a chronic condition will be able to buy 60 days’ worth of common medicines listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for the price of a single prescription, rather than the current one month’s supply from 1 September 2023.

The policy will apply to more than 300 common medicines listed on the PBS and will be implemented in three tranches over 12 months.

The Government has said the policy will reduce the medicine costs for at least 6 million Australians once it is fully implemented.

Pharmacy feud: consumers urged to 'find the facts' - Featured Image
Patients will be able to buy 60 days’ worth of common medicines listed on the PBS for the price of a single prescription. fizkes/Shutterstock

Pharmacy Guild concerns

The Pharmacy Guild claimed last week that the policy may result in significant job losses in the pharmacy sector and that regional pharmacies may be forced to close.

“As many as 20 000 jobs will be lost, 665 pharmacies will close and Australia’s most vulnerable patients will suffer under the Albanese Government’s 60-day dispensing policy,” the Pharmacy Guild said in a statement.

The Guild said these findings were contained in an “independent report”, commissioned by the Guild and authored by economist Henry Ergas AO.

“To deal with these closures and cost pressures, pharmacies will cut opening hours, including on weekends and end free services for patients such as blood pressure monitoring, home delivery of medicines and diabetes and asthma programs,” the Guild’s statement said.

Response to the reforms

The Consumer Health Forum last week reaffirmed its support for the reforms.

“The reason CHF has been strong in its support of 60-day prescribing is it will greatly benefit people with stable, chronic conditions – it will help their health as well as their hip pocket,” Ms Deveny said.

The National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA), which represents 48 national organisations, is also supportive of the reforms but urged the Government to provide support to community pharmacies.

“The Alliance believes that the 60-day prescribing change is good for rural consumers,” NRHA CEO Susi Tegen said.

“We do not, however, wish for the sustainability of rural community pharmacists to be jeopardised.

“The change will substantially impact the viability of essential pharmacy services in rural Australia.

“The risk, without intervention and support from government, is that community pharmacists who are a part of the rural health care team, will no longer be feasible.”

What the Minister has said

The Minister for Health, the Hon. Mark Butler MP, has said any savings from the policy will be reinvested in community pharmacies.

“This reform delivers important cost of living relief to Australians, and every dollar saved by the Government will be reinvested straight back into community pharmacies to secure the ongoing strength of the sector and ensure our trusted pharmacists play an even larger role in the healthcare of Australians,” a statement published by Minister Butler said.

The Minister’s statement also said the change will not result in shortages of medicines.

“While eligible Australians will be able to buy double the medicine on single script, overall demand for medicines will remain unchanged,” the Minister’s statement said.

“This reform won’t affect medicine availability and it won’t add to shortages.”

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6 thoughts on “Pharmacy feud: consumers urged to ‘find the facts’

  1. Anonymous says:

    Pharmacists are supposed to advise how to take etc with each dispensed item.
    However the most common question to the patient some time ago in a survey was “do you need a bag ”
    Maybe GPs should do a limited “dispensing”. Take tabs off the shelf and put on a sticker with details

  2. Anonymous says:

    CHF is a government funded organisation.
    Public policy should never be funded by small family business. We can have both Cheaper medicine and bible pharmacists but the government refused to guarantee viability like overseas countries when the implemented such a policy.

  3. Gary Smethurst says:

    This policy will not reduce the cost of medicines for people with “stable chronic conditions”. The PBS safety does that, and it is not being adjusted. Chronic stable users or a couple on more than 3-4 medicines will see no change, just a delay in reaching their safety net.
    The savings to the government and patients is being indirectly funded by Community Pharmacy, with no warning and no consultation, and the Minister is simply not telling the truth about reinvestment.
    Supply issues are already a daily challenge (nightmare), and will be made worse, there is no buffer in supply chains. Medication wastage will double.
    Hopefully pharmacies can continue to provide the services and access to patients.

  4. Andrew Nielsen says:

    Good luck convincing consumers they should visit the pharmacy twice as often.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hopefully the govt will stick to its guns or even go further. Pharmacists are being alarmist. Community big chain pharmacists have long since given up their credibility as health providers with all their witchcraft and potions on the shelves. The personal questions i hear them ask patients with 10 other people in earshot is a disgrace especially without any clinical context. Bring on medication dispensing machines I say (and i think productivity commission may have said in past too.)

  6. Anonymous says:

    I didn’t hear pharmacists complain when they were given access to prescribe contraceptives or allowed to administer vaccines thus increasing their incomes.

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