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Pharmacies oppose new 60-day prescription shift

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Pam Kiriakidis
Pam Kiriakidis
Pam Kiriakidis has worked as a journalist at the North Central Review since 2022, with a particular focus on the City of Whittlesea and stories for the Whittlesea Review. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Media and Communications majoring in journalism and focuses on politics, community, and health with the occasional niche sports story finding its way in front of her.

Patients will soon be able to receive 60 days’ worth of medication in a single prescription, starting from September 1.

Ahead of the Federal Budget to be handed down on May 9, Health Minister Mark Butler announced that six million Australians would be able to collect a two-month supply of 325 medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, PBS, effectively halving the cost.

The change applies to patients with a Medicare card who take medications for chronic illnesses, such as heart diseases, diabetes, cholesterol, Crohn’s disease and hypertension.

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Federal Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell welcomed the news and said it would ease the cost of living for vulnerable patients on a low income or taking multiple medications.

“Every year, nearly a million Australians are forced to delay or go without a medicine that has been recommended to them by their doctor simply because they cannot afford it,” he said.

“It will also benefit people living with mobility issues, disabilities or those in rural areas who find frequent trips to their GPs and pharmacies difficult.”

But pharmacies across Australia are concerned about the announcement, claiming patients and pharmacies will be worse off.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia opposed the shift, saying it could lead to supply shortages as there were 472 medications already experiencing shortages or unavailable.

pharmacies across Australia are concerned about the announcement, claiming patients and pharmacies will be worse off.

Chemist Discount Centre Kilmore and Wallan pharmacist Bi You said the change ‘sounded good on the surface’ but was destined for negative implications, with patient care one of the major risks.

“If a carer picks up 60 days’ worth of medication for an elderly patient in their home [with] different brands, and within that 60-day period your GP changes your medication, it’s going to cause confusion,” she said.

“So many times hospitalisations are due to medication misadventure – imagine now you have two months’ worth of medication.”

Ms You said the policy would result in more travelling for people looking for medications in short supply.

“What this would mean for the local community [is] ‘who do I choose to give the medication to?’” she said.

Pharmacies currently receive dispensing fees each time medication is purchased.

Under the new policy, TerryWhite Chemmart Broadford pharmacist Andrew Louka said free services the pharmacy normally offered, including aged care deliveries and safe disposal medications, subsidised through the dispensing fee, could potentially be cut back.

“On a weekly basis, we probably send about six to 10 of those [safe disposal] tubs here … now with a double dispensing, that’s just going to go through the roof,” he said.

“Not only does that add to a massive cost to the government in terms of safely destroying those medications, but it also has a massive burden on the PBS to cover.

“If pharmacies aren’t getting subsidised correctly, and they do a lot of free services, then their services might not be for free.”

Nationals Member for Nicholls Sam Birrell said he shared the concerns of regional pharmacy operators about the impact of less contact with customers to observe their response to medication, wastage, and stockpiling medicines.

“Regional pharmacies and their clients need recognition of the vital service they provide and reassurance that the Albanese Government isn’t going to drive them out of business,” he said.

“Once again, they are being warned ahead of time that good intent can still lead to bad outcomes.”

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