As many as 20,000 jobs will be lost, 665 pharmacies will close and Australia’s most vulnerable patients will suffer under the Albanese Government’s 60-day dispensing policy, a major new independent report has found.
The report has also recommended the policy, due to start on 1 September, be delayed and the community and pharmacy sector can be properly consulted.
The report was conducted by renowned economist Henry Ergas AO with Tulipwood Advisory and the Relational Insights Data Lab at Griffith University.
It found elderly people with chronic health conditions and regional Australians will suffer.
In addition to the closure of 665 pharmacies, a further 900 will be at risk of closing due to significant financial pressure.
To deal with these closures and cost pressures, pharmacies will cut opening hours, including on weekends and end free services for patients such as blood pressure monitoring, home delivery of medicines and diabetes and asthma programs.
The report also says the Government’s policy would cut $4.5 billion from community pharmacies over four years, and critically, the money taken out was not being reinvested, negatively impacting millions of patients.
Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA) President Trent Twomey said the independent report was a wake-up call for the Federal Government given its policy was announced without consultation or modelling, as confirmed in Senate Estimates, to understand the vast negative impacts.
“This independent report confirms the policy is catastrophic in its current form, leading to over 20,000 job losses, more than 650 pharmacies shutting, weekend opening hours drastically scaled back and millions of free services cut,” Mr Twomey said.
“You scratch the surface and look behind the positive headline, and you find only a small number of people benefit compared to millions of Australians who will either miss out, pay more, or have reduced services.
“We welcome the Health Minister’s commitment last week in Federal Parliament to a viable pharmacy network but his words need to be matched with action.
“We are prepared to sit down with the Government and discuss the viability of 6,000 community pharmacies but they must be realistic about their policy’s impact and how rushed it has been.”
Key findings in the report:
- Loss of up to 20,818 pharmacy jobs over four years from community pharmacies
- The closure of 665 community pharmacies and a further 900 community pharmacies put under financial stress, over four years
- Cutting of free services, including blood pressure monitoring and weight checking as part of diabetes programs, home delivery of medication, asthma monitoring, extended medicine management (on average each pharmacy delivers 20 or more free consultations each day)
- Disproportionally impacts vulnerable communities, including the elderly, those with chronic health conditions, because any benefit gained from this policy will be offset by reduced access to services currently offered by pharmacies for free
- Disproportionately impacts Australians living in regional and remote Australia due to the higher likelihood of pharmacy closures in those areas
- Disproportionately impacts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who make up a higher proportion of the population in regional and rural areas that will be affected by closures
- A cut of more than $4.5 billion over four years to community pharmacies
- An estimated cost to the taxpayer of $2.5 billion over four years for increased hospitalisations due to medicine mismanagement from increased medicines in the home and an increased rate of missed diagnosis due to less interaction between patients and their GPs and pharmacists.
- Not provide long-term fiscal savings to the Australian Government in net terms that could be passed on to the Australian taxpayer in the form of increased public services, including hospital visits, or reduced taxes (because the reduction in dispensing fee payments is offset by a reduction in patient co-payments and reduced tax revenue paid by the community pharmacy sector as well as increased health care costs).
In the report, Henry Ergas AO says:
- “It would seem sensible for the next steps to be [to] suspend the implementation of the first tranche of the MDQ policy change…until an evidence-based, independent review of the financial and economic impacts on the community pharmacy sector and the Australian community more broadly is undertaken and the impacts properly understood”.
- “As a key part of this independent analysis… [should be to] engage in meaningful consultation with all stakeholders in the community pharmacy sector (peak bodies, consumer bodies and individual pharmacists across all of Australia’s diverse regions) so as to properly test the impacts of the MDQ policy change at the individual community pharmacy level, at regional levels, and at a national level”.
The report was commissioned by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and endorsed and supported by the Australian Patients Association, Pain Australia, National Pharmaceutical Services Association and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.