A war of words has erupted between the Albanese Government and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia over the government’s new policy, which will allow Australians to buy 60 days worth of medicine for the price of a single prescription, effectively halving the cost.
According to the powerful pharmacy lobby, the policy will cut $3.5 billion in patient care to communities around Australia over the next four years.
National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Trent Twomey, said the health minister’s refusal to guarantee patients would receive the medicine they needed or that pharmacies wouldn’t close was worrying. ‘This is a $3.5 billion cut to patient care across every single community in Australia and that should worry patients,’ he said.
‘This cut to patient care will mean aged care services are reduced and elderly patients may go without medicine. This cut will mean parents wanting access to late night medicines for their kids will miss out because pharmacies will be forced to scale back their opening hours.
‘This cut will put more pressure on emergency departments because people will need to go somewhere when their pharmacy is closed,’ said Mr Twomey.
‘I want the federal government to guarantee millions of Australians won’t go without the medicines to treat high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, and anxiety, because of shortages that this policy will deliver. Double of nothing is still nothing,’ he said.
Later, Mr Twomey welcomed Health Minister Mark Butler’s commitment to reinvest the money cut back into community pharmacies.
Mr Twomey claimed that when a similar policy was introduced in the United Kingdom 1,100 pharmacies shut, and when it was introduced in New Zealand more than 70 pharmacies closed.
Minister Butler has refuted the idea that the changes will lead to medicine supply shortages, saying few medicines in short supply will be affected.
‘Over the past five years, patients with chronic disease have literally shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars in co-payments that they didn’t need to shell out. We are going to put an end to that,’ said Mr Butler.
‘This is not going to change the number of tablets dispensed in a given period of time. It is simply going to mean that people can get two boxes at a time, instead of having to get one box and come back twice as often,’ he said.
‘I would caution against some of the scare campaigns being put by the pharmacy lobby group.’
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has welcomed the proposed change, noting that Pharmacy Guild members have been enjoying record profits, and that Australian patients would be better served by cheaper medicines and more available GP appointments.
The new policy is due to start in September.