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Australian Journal of Pharmacy : March 2005
guild S Alice would have said, the situa- tion regarding the Fourth Commu- nity Pharmacy Agreement negotiations is getting curiouser and curiouser. The latest amazing development has been very recent and was conveyed to me in a letter from the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing, Philip Davies. The letter, dated 17 February 2005, refers to my February AJP column and basically undermines the whole premise on which community pharmacy has based its preparations for the negotiations. I think it would be appropriate to run some of the pertinent parts of the letter. ‘I suspect it may be more a reflection of publication deadlines than an error, but I was surprised to read your comment in the February edition of The Australian Jour- nal of Pharmacy that “The Pharmacy Guild will commence negotiation of the Fourth Community Pharmacy Agreement this month”. ‘I am sure you are aware that negotia- tions have not yet started. Indeed, we have not agreed a date when they will start. While we may have made reference to a start date of February at various times in the past few months, we have never made a formal commitment in that regard. ‘Likewise, your suggestion that “the major elements of the Agreement” will be finalised before the release of the Federal Budget on 10 May does not, to my knowl- edge, reflect any formal commitment made by the Australian Government or the Department. ‘The Government is still considering its position with regard to the Fourth Com- munity Pharmacy Agreement and we will not be able to begin negotiations until it has done so and has determined its expec- tations for the Agreement. ‘I would not want your members, or the Australian public, to be misled regarding from the president Pharmacy Guild of Australia president John Bronger Late, for a very important date A progress with negotiation of the Agree- ment. Accordingly, I should be grateful if you would ensure that statements such as those contained in your Australian Journal of Pharmacy article are not repeated and, if possible, that you take steps to address any misunderstandings that article might have generated.’ Community pharmacists are being hung out to dry by the Department of Health I am sure you will agree that this is a truly amazing missive and raises many questions while answering none. Let me make a couple of points very clear. I certainly did not intend to mislead members when I referred to a possible start of negotiations in February this year. In fact, such comments were based on the Health Department’s ‘references’ to a start in negotiations in February. The Third Agreement took some 10 months to negotiate. Now we have the Government’s negotiators not willing to even commit to a start-up date for nego- tiations and, given the timeframe needed for the Third Agreement, it is not beyond the realms of reason to expect that this Agreement will take more than a few weeks to settle. That being the case, community phar- macists are being hung out to dry by the Department of Health. Community pharmacists are unable to 150 ? THE AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF PHARMACY VOL.86 MARCH 2005 commit to business plans, staff develop- ment, expansion or a myriad of other nec- essary decisions because they simply do not know what is going to happen to their profession. The logical way for them to move is to start cutting back on the services they pro- vide in anticipation of a long period of uncertainty. Now anyone with any nous of eco- nomic understanding would quickly see that such moves will have major long- term impacts on the health budget. Peo- ple will not receive services and their con- ditions will deteriorate with the result that many people will be hospitalised. Failure to commit to a start-up date makes it imperative that we highlight that this delay threatens our livelihood. It threatens the services community phar- macy provides to the community. And it threatens the health of the community. As you all know, the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, made a commitment to the Fourth Agreement when he wrote to you during the election campaign. Mr Howard said: ‘The Government is committed to successive bilateral agreements with the Guild as a foundation of Australia’s phar- maceutical benefits system’. So when do the negotiations start? When will they finish? On the strength of Mr Davies’ letter, the answer is that I don’t have a clue. Like Humpty Dumpty, Philip Davies, in distinguishing between references by the department to start dates and formal commitment to a date, has embraced the notion that: ‘When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less’. Perhaps there is a lesson from Alice’s cohort, the White Rabbit. ‘Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?’ he asked. ‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop’. ¦