Pharmacy dispensing continues to divide opinion

Balfours Pharmacist owner Stephanie Roocke, and Nic Balfour, who runs the Findlay and Weymouth Pharmacy and is a partner at Balfour's Pharmacy.

Stefan Bradley

THE 60-day dispensing policy announced by the federal government continues to divide opinion.

Late last month, the federal government announced $148.2 million in funding for regional, rural and remote pharmacies, following criticism from the pharmacy sector about the 60-day dispensing policy ahead of its expected start on September 1.

The four-year funding, which begins on September 1, will help pharmacies adjust to the transition to 60-day prescriptions, assuming the policy passes the Senate.

Nic Balfour, who runs the Findlay and Weymouth Pharmacy and is a partner at Balfour’s Pharmacy, both in Sale, described the announcement as “too little too late”.

Pharmacies in regional, rural and remote Australia (known as areas 2 to 7 under the Modified Monash classification method) with average script volumes equalling dispensing income of under $1 million in the 12 months to April 1 2023, will be eligible to receive a new Regional Pharmacy Transition Allowance (RPTA).

The new transition allowance will mean $338,477 in additional support over four years for the ‘small rural town’ category (MM5), which Gippsland is a part of.

The new allowance is in addition to the doubling of the budget for the Regional Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance (RPMA), which came into effect on July 1.

The government said the RPMA increase that took effect on July 1 means that a pharmacy dispensing 50,000 scripts a year will likely receive more than $70,880 over four years for a ‘small rural town’, including Gippsland.

The government said that when combined, the two allowances will mean that the average reduction in dispensing revenue will be offset this financial year, with continuing support and a gradual step down over four years, as the patient uptake of 60-day prescriptions increases.

Mr Balfour said the government had made this announcement “without speaking to anyone.”

“The 60 day dispensing cuts coming are permanent and any additional funding is temporary, but only available to a small minority of pharmacies with low dispensary income in regional/remote areas,” he said.

“It does not offset any of the revenue impact previously communicated … and most pharmacies in regional areas will not receive any of the announced ‘extra funding’.”

Mr Balfour had previously said the 60-day dispense policy was announced by the government with zero consultation with pharmacy peak bodies or impact modelling on pharmacies.

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said the new transition payment will provide significant additional support for more than 1000 pharmacies in regional, rural and remote Australia.

“We want to make sure that regional and rural pharmacies are given the opportunity to seize these new growth opportunities, just like city pharmacies,” he said.

“Pharmacies hold a special place in rural and regional Australia – they’re a critical part of the fabric of a community and are often the most accessible health setting.

“Dispensing medicines is complex and critical, but it is not the only reason that pharmacies and pharmacists are so highly valued.”

Mr Butler said that 60-day prescriptions mean twice the medication for the cost of a single prescription.

“It will save money and time for more than six million Australians with an ongoing health condition,” he said.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners called on Senators to avoid holding up the 60-day dispensing policy, after concerns were raised that a disallowance motion may be put forward to stall the scheme.