The Harper Review’s recommendations to within the next two years abolish the strict laws that govern pharmacy ownership and operations have raised concerns for independent pharmacies.
Currently, only registered pharmacists can own and operate a pharmacy, according to state and territory laws, but recommendations from Ian Harper’s landmark competition policy review would see that rule unwound so larger players such as Coles and Woolworths could enter the space.
While this could mean longer opening hours and more convenience for consumers, there is a fear the duopoly would squeeze out smaller players.
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has suggested a change in pharmacy ownership rules will mean a lesser level of care given to consumers.
“The ownership rules ensure that local pharmacies are owned by registered pharmacists, who are healthcare professionals first and foremost, frequently putting their patients before profits,” the Pharmacy Guild said in a statement.
“Australia’s 5450 community pharmacies, currently struggling under the pressures of price disclosure, need certainty and stability – not a constant push to abolish a system that’s working,” added the executive director of the guild, David Quilty.
The Harper Review also called for the removal of the complex location rules for pharmacies, which it says are so convoluted they require a 56-page handbook to explain.
The current rules prevent new pharmacies opening within between 1.5kms and 10kms of others. These rules apply differently depending on the distance to the nearest existing pharmacy, the number of supermarkets in a town, or the number of medical practitioners in the area.
While the Harper Review panel found it was important to maintain regulation of the pharmacy industry, it said the current regulations impose extra costs on consumers. The panel also relied on overseas evidence and the rise of discount pharmacy groups and online prescriptions to make a case for deregulation.
“Accordingly, the Panel considers that present restrictions on ownership and location are unnecessary to uphold the quality of advice and care provided to patients,” says the report.
“Further, it is clear that such restrictions limit both consumers’ ability to choose where to obtain pharmacy products and services, and providers’ ability to meet consumers’ preferences.”