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02 February 2023

RACGP: Medicare reforms should improve access to medicines and costs for patients

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging Australia’s political leaders to put patients first in reforms overhauling Medicare and improve access to medicines and lower costs for patients.

It comes after reports that NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet will petition the national cabinet for changes to give pharmacies greater scope to prescribe medicines such as antibiotics, contraception and antidepressants, after strong lobbying by the Pharmacy Guild.

In its pre-Budget submission, the RACGP urged government to overhaul Australia’s anti-competitive pharmacy ownership and location laws which limit competition and make it harder for people to access discounted pharmacy services, resulting in higher costs and limited choice for consumers. The RACGP earlier announced a plan for governments to address the health crisis, with action now to stem the bleeding and implement long-term reform that improves health outcomes, and reduces pressure on hospitals.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said sweeping reforms are needed to address the health crisis and improving access to medicines and costs must be on the table. 

“Australia’s pharmacy ownership laws are anti-competitive, and this inflates the cost to consumers, makes it harder for people to access medicines and reduces choice,” she said.

“There have been numerous reviews and reports on pharmacy ownership and location rules, and none of the recommendations to break up the monopoly or allow longer dispensing intervals have ever been actioned.

“Supermarket pharmacies are widespread in most western nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and all over Europe. Why not here? It makes no sense, particularly in a country where we have so many rural and remote communities that don’t have a pharmacy nearby.

“The RACGP is urging our political leaders to overhaul Australia’s anti-competitive pharmacy ownership and location rules to improve access to medicines and costs to consumers. Australia should explore alternative models used widely overseas.

“Patients would also benefit significantly if they could get a larger supply of medicines in one go with longer dispensing intervals and larger medicine pack sizes.

“The Medicare Taskforce Review is about improving access to care for patients. And we need to consider everything as part of this, including Australia’s anti-competitive pharmacy rules which have put Australia so far behind other countries when it comes to access to care and convenience for patients.”

The RACGP President also warned against substituting the role of GPs.

“GPs train for well over 10 years in diagnostics, as well as doing ongoing training for the rest of our working life, in order to be able to diagnose patients,” she said.

“There is no substitute for GP care, this road leads to bad health outcomes, and more pressure on our already overburdened hospitals.

“The pharmacy prescribing trial in Queensland was not a proper research trial, it did not evaluate health outcomes, and it cannot be used as evidence that such trials should be expanded.

“The RACGP and other medical bodies have long been warning about risky moves to allow retail pharmacists to prescribe antibiotics and other medications in Australia, because local and international evidence shows it leads to overprescribing. The introduction of more prescribers goes against antimicrobial stewardship efforts and now is not the time to introduce additional prescribers.  

“In Queensland, pharmacists prescribed antibiotics to 96.3% of patients with UTI-like symptoms, without taking urine samples to confirm if they actually had the infection. And there were reports of patients being given antibiotics who in fact had other serious health issues, including a women with a 15-centimetre pelvic mass.

“Bandaid solutions will not solve Australia’s health crisis. It might be a cheaper option at first, but who wants cheaper if it means a serious illness is missed?

“We need serious investment in general practice care and long-term reforms that ensure all Australians have access to high-quality care, no matter their postcode or income.”


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