Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 08 Hansard (Wednesday, 29 June 2005 2005) . . Page.. 2494 ..
only about 19 per cent, representing schedules 3 and 2 pharmaceuticals and private prescription items, which, by law, only pharmacists can handle. But even here it is only the gross margin in this category that would be affected by competition from Woolworths. This represents only 7 per cent of the market.
Woolworths’ interest is in developing the over-the-counter market. Since advertising of scheduled drugs is currently illegal, they will use their influence to change the law to permit open advertising of drugs, similar to the USA on which their model is based. They will also attempt to have as many drugs as they can de-scheduled so that they are free to sell them with or without pharmacists. Anyone who has been in the United States knows the television channels are filled with advertisements for every known drug that you can contemplate. I ask the question: is this really good for health care?
Of course they will also, over time, seek to change other laws pertaining to ownership, location, et cetera, to free up their activities to allow them to Americanise the pharmacy area in Australia. Australia’s and New Zealand’s system of independently owned and operated community pharmacies is without doubt the best in the world. A number of members from each of the three political groupings represented in the Assembly recently attended a breakfast where we heard compelling evidence supporting the integrity of our system and some of the failings now in the British system since they have changed their arrangements and moved away from the model we enjoy.
Pharmacists in community pharmacies play the role of identifying prescribing mistakes and counsel against taking medications which are inappropriate for the patient and which may have an adverse interaction with other medicines being taken by the patient.
Large corporations are about making money for shareholders. If supermarkets were to swallow the pharmacy sector, the many services and personal advantage and benefit of the pharmacy would be lost, as would many of our suburban shopping areas in Canberra that are beneficiaries from the traffic created from pharmacies and newsagents. It would be a major loss for those centres across the ACT if we were to see the pharmacy profession eroded through the ambitions of the Woolworths’ expansion.
Pharmacy is a service and not a commodity. Community pharmacies also make a significant contribution to the ACT economy. They have a turnover of approximately $156 million and pay wages and salaries worth $24 million. Indeed, under the current structure and under these arrangements, most of this money does remain within the ACT and contributes to the ACT’s economy. Any arrangements that would open up pharmacy ownership to large corporations would threaten this and certainly would threaten much of the employment associated with pharmacies in Canberra, not to mention the residual impact on shopping centres throughout our suburbs. It is very well recognised that independent community pharmacies are the ones who know the people; they have the relationships with the general practitioners; and they certainly support their local communities through the regeneration of the profits from their business.
Any move that would allow Woolworths to take over the pharmacy area is not in the interests of the community and is certainly not in the interests of sensible healthcare. Having lived in the United States and in this country and seen the different systems, I will take the Australian model on any occasion as a preference. Regulations currently governing the handling and sale of medicines are based on the quality use of medicines,