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Pharmacists say clinics could close with proposed double dispensing prescriptions


Pharmacists say proposed changes to the way medicines are dispensed could leave regional patients without access to life-saving drugs.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia told members on Thursday about a proposal in the federal budget to double the supply of medication provided per prescription.

If approved as part of the upcoming federal budget, patients would have access to 60 days’ worth of medicine for each script from July 1.

The proposal would halve the current fees paid by the government each time a pharmacist dispenses subsidised medicines.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Nicole Higgins said the scheme change would help make healthcare more affordable.

“It will save money for individual patients, as well as significant savings for the overall health budget and taxpayers,” she said.

“The cost of dispensing was $1.67 billion in 2021–22. A two-month interval would cut this by half.”

RACGP president Karen Price sits at a desk with a pen in her hand, looking into camera.
Nicole Higgins says the proposed changes will result in significant savings for the health budget.()

Change to impact pharmacy income

But Goomalling pharmacist Mark Ashton said there simply wasn’t enough supply to meet demand.

“I’m already having to choose who of my patients needs the medication the most, and I’m tired of it,” he said.

“It’s hard to be able to say, this person has worse diabetes so they need their medication today, while this person’s more under control so they can go without it for a while.

Pharmacists are pleading with the Australian government to reconsider the proposal.

“If all of a sudden we now have to supply every patient with double their supply of medications with no extra coming in from the supply chain, the shortage of medicines is just going to get substantially worse in a very short amount of time.”

Mr Ashton said the income loss from the proposal would make it difficult to cover operating costs.

“Probably $90,000 a year is the hit that I would take,” he said.

“Post-COVID we’ve worked bloody hard. We’ve put on probably about three extra staff in my store … we’ve done our best to expand services as much as possible. And then if this goes through, you don’t really have an option but to cut your staff right back.

“I’m worried that it’ll put a threat to jobs and quite possibly to my business.”

Risk of wastage would increase, pharmacist says

Woman standing in the doorway of a pharmacy.
Northampton pharmacist Joanne Loftus. ()

Northampton pharmacist Joanne Loftus works with local doctors to find alternative medications when those prescribed are out of stock.

But Ms Loftus said the medical practice was not open every day.

“I can’t make any clinical decisions until I speak to a GP and that whole turnaround process could take two weeks. But when the patient’s run out of medicines, they need something today,” she said.

The risk of medication overdose and wastage would also increase under the proposal, according to Ms Loftus.

“If a patient has a change in blood pressure tablets etc., they bring them back to the pharmacy and we have to destroy them,” she said.

“We’ve had patients drop off thousands of dollars worth of medicines … so you can imagine how that’s going to escalate should the 60-day dispensing come through.”