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Rural pharmacy proprietors air grievances with latest government position with closures possible

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Regional and remote pharmacy proprietors have spoken out about a recent government announcement ensuring future viability for their operating models, stating that their businesses are now delicately poised with changes being implemented to dispensary procedures for patients based in isolated parts of the country.

The recent announcement indicated the longevity of pharmacies in Australia's outback was secure and the announcement was endorsed by the President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Dr Nicole Higgins, who appeared on Flow FM to elaborate on the announcement.

Higgins assured listeners the latest financial boost to rural pharmacies was significant and would suffice as the catalyst to restoring the future viability of rural pharmacies.

"The funding package is actually really quite significant and it's actually the funding package as a whole, it's being able to not just support the actual individual pharmacist but also the roles that they do and that is about supporting web-to-packs, aged care and not just the dispensing," Higgins said.

"One of the concerns was the impact on rural pharmacies - in the city, they've got large retail areas and lots of foot traffic coming through but that's different in country areas, so this package aims to compensate our rural pharmacies because they're such an important part of our community."

"When we're talking about what's happening at the moment with reform, it's happening across the whole health sector whether it be general practice, whether it be pharmacy, nursing, [or] allied health, so this is part of the big picture."

However, since the article detailing the government's latest position on aiding remote pharmacies was published by this masthead earlier this month, Flownews24 reached out to two pharmacy proprietors with regional and remote pharmaceutical businesses.

Ben Brndusic appears regularly on Flow FM but was fired up for vastly different reasons on this occasion.

Brndusic owns and operates a handful of regional pharmacies - one of those being the TerryWhite Chemmart in Urana.

He told Country Viewpoint host Ellis Gelios that he now has no choice but to review his expenses or risk having to close his business.

"I'm looking at about a $60,000 to $70,000 reduction in my bottom line profit...I employ a staff member, that might have to be revisited, I provide a sponsorship to the local football club, that'll have to be free Webster packing or free delivery - I'll have to start charging for those things as well as looking at increasing my charges for my normal everyday pharmacy stock," Brndusic said.

"So, the one thing I suppose a lot of us have been disappointed about is the lack of consultation from government, we haven't really heard too much, you hear lots of stuff in the media but nothing that's actually giving us any detail on specifics on how they want this to roll out.

"I'll cut to the chase, there's probably two of my stores that if this goes through, I'll probably have to consider closing."

Brndusic went on to express that one of his biggest bugbears is having industry outsiders provide commentary on the state of affairs within the rural pharmacy community.

"I suppose one thing that probably annoys some of us is that I don't like to give a running commentary on how GPs run their businesses and to hear other medical professionals giving advice on how this will affect pharmacies - they have no idea, they're not pharmacists," said Brndusic.

"I don't know how to run a GP practice, I wouldn't pretend to think that I know how to run a GP practice and I think it's the same for people in the medical profession about running pharmacies.

"There's more to it than what is actually happening and yeah, that's been disappointing to see other people making comments on things that they don't know too much about."

Meanwhile, in Tasmania, Rural Pharmacist Ian Magill, who also owns the Geeveston Pharmacy, said he was "in a scary position to be in".

"This new policy called 60-day dispensing that the government have brought about actually threatens the viability of my pharmacy and many other pharmacies across Australia," Magill said.

"So instead of sort of focusing on helping our patients, a lot of pharmacy owners across Australia are stressed out to the max wondering how on earth we can maintain our businesses while still providing essential service to our communities, it's a scary position to be in at the moment I'm afraid.

Magill was also critical of what he labelled "non-existent" communication from the government.

"Communication with the government has been essentially non-existent from the start, they made this announcement saying that they were going to introduce it, they have no interaction with any pharmacy body whatsoever...they just made a decision saying it's going to save patients money," Magill explained.

"Then what came out from the president of the RACGP was saying that, well it's not going to be a problem, rural pharmacy across Australia, it created quite a bit of outrage among pharmacists, pharmacy owners and everyone who has anything to do with pharmacy business.

Magill went on to expand on how the future of his business is now under threat.

"Look, the Rural Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance is an injection of money that's given to rural pharmacies across Australia to help to patients, that $90,000 that was stated is the total amount that would be given to a pharmacy in a very remote location that does essentially very, very few scripts a year.

"My increase of funds from the rural pharmacy maintenance allowance totals $14,000 a year. After the government, with a number of economic analysis that I've done on my business, I will lose from medical services, free Webster Packs, free deliveries, there are a lot of services we provide free of charge.

"That funding has been stripped out of my business which means I won't be able to provide these services at free or even risk closing my business down."


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