I rise today to discuss concerns about the government’s proposed changes to dispensing arrangements for pharmacists and the impact that these changes are likely to have in parts of regional and rural Australia. Aside from ensuring that Australians have the medications they need, pharmacists provide a very wide range of services to our communities, from blood pressure monitoring through to wound management, to being a point of return for unwanted medicines, to packing the Webster packs to make sure that the medications go properly to the customers who need them, particularly those customers with complex needs.
Last week on the Gold Coast I held roundtable with pharmacists. It was a very clear that the changes will leave their businesses worse off and, more importantly, our local community worse off. I want to stress that those who did attend the roundtable were small businesses; they were community pharmacies. The proposed changes will significantly reduce their profitability and that means that they need to start looking at what they are going to do to ensure that they remain a viable business. With the two largest input measures for small businesses being rent and wages, and with rents being unable to be negotiated at the moment, many of the pharmacists at that roundtable were looking at what they could do to reduce the hours of operation, looking at what they could do to reduce staffing levels or even close on certain days so that they were able to remain open for at least some of the time and meet the community’s needs.
I am very much aware of the impact of rising cost of living in the community. Where it is at all possible to ease the burden on individuals then, absolutely, the government should be looking at that. Reducing costs for consumers has merit, but when you look overall at what the impact of these changes is likely to be—pharmacies having to open for shorter hours, offering fewer health checks, increased risk of wastage, potential overdose and potentially having to charge for other services which they currently provide free, such as packing the Webster packs—then we really need to start looking at what the alternatives are so that the pharmacists themselves are not the ones that are subsidising the community.
The aged-care sector is already in crisis, and the loss of pharmacists packing and delivering medication is certainly going to put more pressure on the care workers there. So while some may benefit on upfront costs, how many people will actually be worse off? Is there a better way to deliver cost-of-living relief without impacting on these services?
I am calling on the government to do all that they can to provide an update to the community on what can possibly be done to support pharmacists as well as support our community.