Pharmacists reject further cuts to PBS outlined in new report

07 March, 2017

The recommendations in a new Grattan Institute report calling for further cuts to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) are cause for significant concern, the peak national body for pharmacists, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) said recently.

The Health Report – Cutting a better drug deal has outlined savings of up to $500 million a year if the "Government pursues a better drug deal" by introducing further reforms to the PBS pricing policy.

PSA National President Joe Demarte said cost-saving suggestions such as further accelerating price disclosure were cause for concern.

"We know that the effect of this is two-fold: it impacts the viability and future sustainability of the community pharmacy network, which provides a valuable access point for medicines and services," Demarte said.

"Secondly, it creates downward pressure on wages – the number one issue for pharmacists right now. The report identifies that payment for pharmacist services could mitigate reduced community pharmacy income but first and foremost, provision of evidence-based pharmacy services should be about meeting patient needs.

"PSA has been saying for some time that ensuring a sustainable business platform for community pharmacies and diversifying the funding sources for services beyond the PBS is urgently needed. Pharmacist payment through the MBS, for example, would provide consumers with greater access to pharmacist services in a range of settings."

PSA also urged careful consideration of the report's suggestion for location rules to be replaced with simpler regulations. "We urge decision-makers to consider international evidence on the unintended effects of loosening community pharmacy regulations (including location rules, ownership and the State and Territory legislative restrictions on co-location of pharmacies and supermarkets)," Demarte said.

On a positive note, PSA cautiously welcomed recommendations to expand the role of pharmacists so they become part of a coordinated team providing healthcare to their local community.

Local pharmacies, working with general practitioners, should be enabled to administer vaccinations, provide drug information, review medication and facilitate consumer access to repeat medications for patients with simple and stable medical conditions, the report said.

"These recommendations support long-standing calls by PSA to expand the role of pharmacists within their approved scope, to provide cost-effective healthcare solutions, in line with international and local evidence," Demarte said.

"As the most accessible health professionals in Australia, pharmacists' skills, knowledge and expertise are often under-utilised. So there's a significant opportunity to optimise the contribution of pharmacists to improve healthcare and help reduce costs in Australia's health system."

In relation to chronic disease, the report highlighted coordinated healthcare teams, which include physicians, nurses and pharmacists, were most effective in managing patients' chronic conditions.

"PSA strongly supports this evidence-based approach and through initiatives like the Health Care Homes trial, pharmacists are best placed to provide medication management, high quality medicines advice and education to consumers, especially with chronic and complex conditions," Demarte said.