Pharmacists accused of greed in push for changes to prescriptions

Medical specialists and some MPs are calling for a revamp of pharmacy laws so patients can get double the amount of prescription medicine than is currently permitted and be provided with a 12-month – rather than six-month – prescription when visiting their GP.

On the surface, the suggested reform would appear to have a number of advantages, making life easier for both patients and doctors. But the proposal has received vehement pushback from the pharmacy sector.

The concept has been around for some years, and in 2018, the Pharmacy Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) recommended increasing the maximum dispensed quantities of 143 common prescription medicines from one to two months’ supply.

But, according to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the federal government of the time bowed to pharmacy industry pressure and shelved any plans for reform.

Four years on, and the RACGP has renewed its push, which it says has overwhelming support. A newsGP online poll that ended this week showed that 85 per cent of the more than 1000 GPs who responded believe patients would benefit from doubling dispensing times to 60 days.

Given the seemingly obvious benefits of doubling the dispensing length, the Pharmacy Guild’s opposition to the idea seems incongruous. However, as a guild spokesperson said, the current system of providing one month’s supply strikes balance between patient convenience and minimising the volume of medicines in a patient’s home and the community.

“When a patient returns to their community pharmacy for a repeat supply of a prescription medicine, pharmacists have the opportunity to access patient compliance with the prescribed medicine, and can intervene if confusion or adverse reactions to medicines are identified,” the spokesperson said.

But the RACGP believes the guild’s motivation for opposing the change comes down to one simple thing – the potential impact on pharmacies’ bottom lines. The college’s then president Dr Harry Nespolon said in 2019 that it was impossible to confuse what has happened behind the scenes of the guild’s lobbying.

“The Pharmacy Guild’s own email to its members noted its concern on how 60-day dispenses would affect pharmacy profits,” said the late Dr Nespolon, who passed away the following year.

Current president Dr Nicole Higgins said the prescription medicine reforms are needed now more than ever to help ease cost-of-living pressures and to reduce the administration for scripts, giving GPs more time with patients.

‘We have a cost-of-living crisis and a health system crisis on our hands, and people across Australia are feeling the crunch and struggling to access or afford the healthcare and medicines they need,’ she said.

After last year’s change of government, the push to adopt the 2018 recommendations has been reignited not just by GPs but also members of parliament. Independent Monique Ryan, a paediatric neurologist who won the seat of Kooyong at last year’s federal election, is one such MP.

“There are simple [prescription medicine] reforms the government can and should make that will save patients’ money and time, as well as freeing up GPs so we can see more patients, and reducing the overall healthcare budget,” she said.

Health minister Mark Butler flagged the possibility of reform in question time this month when he said the government was looking at all options to improve healthcare. However, when asked to comment on the proposal when addressing the pharmacy sector’s annual conference last weekend, he would not be drawn, saying simply that all “will become clear in May”.

That’s when the Albanese government will deliver the Federal Budget. It may well also be when Australians find out who holds the greater ‘clout’ – the RACGP or the Pharmacy Guild.

What do you think about the proposed prescription medicine reforms? Would you take advantage of the option of purchasing 60 days’ worth of medicine instead of 30? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Also read: Pharmacy chain wants to offer some PBS drugs for free

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. I never knew this was a problem. I always get all of my prescriptions two months at a time and have never been refused unless there is a temporary shortage. The twelve month prescriptions would however be most useful.

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