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Australian Journal of Pharmacy : April 2005
psa OMMUNITY pharmacy’s role as both a professional deliverer of healthcare and a retail business was among the many important issues dis- cussed by speakers at last month’s APP Conference on the Gold Coast. One memorable speaker—corporate strategist Christopher Clark—outlined the various positions which industries could adopt to carve out their own seg- ments in the marketplace. In explaining where he thought com- munity pharmacy was positioned, and where it should aim to be, he said that pharmacy’s key advantage over competi- tion from supermarkets was its profes- sionalism and the specialised service it could provide to the public. Here at the PSA we’ve been saying that for 40 years. Mr Clark said community pharmacies would have no hope of competing with supermarkets in those retailing areas in which Coles and Woolworths held all the advantages. Turning pharmacies into pseudo-supermarkets, with piles of dis- count toilet paper, tissues or toothpaste, was actually counter-productive. Apart from downgrading the profes- sional image of pharmacy, such non-core activities generated confusion in the minds of the public as to what the phar- macy’s role actually was. Does it deliver healthcare? Or is that simply a by-prod- uct of its retailing aim? Ultimately, Mr Clark said there was no way community pharmacies could com- pete with supermarkets on provision of high-volume, low-margin goods, so they must focus on offering something the supermarkets couldn’t—high-quality pro- fessional services. He said it was death for community pharmacy to be ‘stuck in the middle’. Many speakers at APP voiced the same message in different forms. To the relief of many in the audience, Health Minister Tony Abbott reaffirmed to conference delegates the Government’s from the president Pharmaceutical Society of Australia president Brian Grogan Don’t get ‘stuck in the middle’ C stance of opposing the entry of super- markets into community pharmacy. The Minister’s explanation of this was interesting: ‘I don’t think the “culture” of retailing [in supermarkets] is appropriate for retailing potentially dangerous drugs.’ Mr Abbott has clearly been convinced by the arguments put forward by the pharmacy profession about its crucial role in ensuring Quality Use of Medicines. Note that he specifically used the notion of a retailing ‘culture’ as a key reason why supermarkets were unsuitable to sell potentially dangerous medicines. This is exactly why pharmacies should deliber- ately set out to avoid public perceptions that they are simply another aspect of general retailing. ‘I don’t think the “culture” of retailing [in supermarkets] is appropriate for retailing potentially dangerous drugs.’ TONY ABBOTT So the piles of discount toilet paper, tis- sues and toothpaste should be removed, and displays of professional information to help consumers learn about their health and medicines use should take their place. Of course, this has to be backed up with the necessary staff train- ing to ensure consumers are getting high- quality information supported by the best available research. Powerful players such as Mr Corbett are not going to give up their push to take on community pharmacy and they will use anything they can to convince the Government that their businesses are not incompatible with selling medicines. If community pharmacies position themselves in the same market ‘space’ as 234 ? THE AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF PHARMACY VOL.86 APRIL 2005 supermarkets by an over-reliance on ordi- nary items of commerce the argument that community pharmacy deserves a privileged position becomes much harder to sustain. As we have seen with the re-scheduling of a product such as ibuprofen, regulatory bodies and governments are increasingly adopting a consumer-oriented approach where easier access is presumed to be a desirable goal, unless there are compelling reasons—such as public safety—to restrict sales. Many in pharmacy would argue there were compelling reasons to restrict the sale of ibuprofen, but the National Drugs and Poisons Schedule Committee (NDPSC) decided otherwise. Ultimately, with the regulatory presumption in favour of easier access to medicines for consumers, it is up to the pharmacy profession to offer com- pelling arguments to justify retaining many medicines under the schedules. Of course, the focus on consumer access can also work in favour of phar- macy. The re-scheduling of orlistat and fluconazole illustrates the importance of pharmacy’s role in simultaneously offer- ing better consumer access while ensuring patients receive high-quality information. The PSA has been very active in ensuring the profession has the tools to provide this information. Effectively, in these instances, the NDPSC has shown it trusts community pharmacy to provide quality healthcare and it is up to the profession to demon- strate this trust is not misplaced. The profession has the tools and the will to uphold this trust. But if it does not demonstrate it is worthy there are plenty of predators out there who are only too happy to champion the cause of even greater consumer access to medicines. They would argue that community phar- macy doesn’t effectively fulfil the gate- keeper role anyway, so why not leave the gate open and unattended 24 hours a day? ¦