Andrew Podger, now with the ANU, adds some clarity to the controversey over the Pharmacy Guild’s deal with Blackmores. The Crikey piece he refers to is only available to subscribers so I have posted it separately here.
‘The Pharmacy Guild’s deal with Blackmores is hopefully a monumental own goal. It offers the opportunity for the Government to revisit the Pharmacy Agreement and to consider seriously this time the scope for competition. Now that would benefit consumers.
‘The structure of prescription medicines in Australia is designed to avoid ‘vertical integration’, separating the prescription of medicines from their dispensing. This ensures doctors are not conflicted by opportunities to profit from (unnecessary) prescriptions. This is the basis for the Pharmacy Agreement: they have a monopoly on dispensing and doctors on prescribing.
Pharmacists have always been able to advise on over-the-counter drugs and complementary medicines, and to profit from selling them. But this deal seems to go a lot further, providing a systematic incentive to promote remedies in addition to those prescribed by doctors. It also gives Blackmores piggy-back benefits by linking themselves to the pharmacists’ monopoly on dispensing prescription drugs.
Moreover, as Jennifer Doggett explains (in Crikey and Croakey today), complementary medicines are not subject to the sort of efficacy testing that governs the listing of prescription medicines. And Blackmores have long resisted strengthening the regulation of complementary medicines.
‘The deal therefore raises questions about the Guild’s claims that the Pharmacy Agreement that limits competition and protects them so much is essential for consumer safety and proper management of evidence-based medicine. What possibly now distinguishes a pharmacy owned by pharmacists and any other outlet employing pharmacists to dispense prescription medicines? This latest deal is just about (more) money. If consumers are really to benefit in terms of both health and costs, let the pharmacies be subject to more competition.