The practice of supermarkets selling prescription medication is becoming more common around the world, but the concept is banned in Australia.
Australia’s leading doctors’ group, the Australian Medical Association (AMA), wants to change that situation and has also floated the idea of vending machines selling prescription medication in GP clinics.
In a discussion paper titled the Future of Dispensing, which the AMA released on Monday, the body called for careful consideration to be given to the strict ownership rules for pharmacies, saying increased competition could bring prices down for patients.
“What we’re calling for is a deregulation of an extremely protected industry,” AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“It pushes up the price, it reduces convenience and access compared with newer models that are popping up in other places around the world.”
Proposals to break the stranglehold pharmacies hold on dispensing medications are not new, with former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Graeme Samuel supporting calls for increased competition in the industry in 2019.
The Pharmacy Guild, which represents 5700 small community pharmacies, remains the biggest hurdle for change coming to the sector and fiercely defends its position in the dispensing business.
Pharmacy Guild president Trent Twomey rejected the AMA’s calls for change, telling The Sydney Morning Herald consumers valued having a relationship with their local pharmacies.
Dr Khorshid explained that patients in the United States and the UK were able to fill their prescriptions at retail stores and there were remote dispensing machines in the UK as well.
“If you’ve got a machine that is able to dispense medicines, you might be able to put that in a GP practice and the pharmacist that’s in that practice could actually supervise,” Dr Khorshid said.
He said that the current system for dispensing medicines was even harder for those in rural and regional areas. “The outdated pharmacy ownership rules are undeniably anticompetitive, they drive up costs for consumers and governments and are even more punitive to rural and remote Australians because they have less competition with restrictive location rules.”
While the AMA’s discussion paper did not formally endorse a particular model for medicines as an immediate step, it called on the government to allow pharmacies to dispense up to a three-month supply of medicines for patient convenience if a doctor deemed it was safe.
One of the other positions put forward in the paper include relaxing ownership rules to allow co-location of pharmacies and medical practices.
Dr Khorshid said the recent pivot towards e-prescribing as a result of the pandemic had shown that the health system can move quickly on these issues when it needs to and that should progress should continue.
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