Community pharmacies are an integral part of Australia’s primary health care system. Pharmacists dispense prescribed and over-the-counter (OTC) medications and play a vital role in ensuring patients are given the correct medication and understand how to take it safely. Pharmacists also provide patients with important advice regarding health products or conditions and are amongst Australia’s most trusted professionals. However, declining revenues from dispensing and the increasing dominance of large pharmacy chains had led to an increasing retail focus across the sector. Many pharmacists, doctors and consumer advocates felt that this threatened the integrity of community pharmacies. On the one hand, pharmacists deliver a public service and are ethically obliged to provide accurate, impartial advice within their scope of practice. On the other, they own or work in commercial enterprises that aim to turn a profit. Critics pointed to the array of dubious products stocked prominently in retail pharmacies such as health supplements which are poorly regulated and often devoid of therapeutic benefit. At the same time, the government and community pharmacy sector were increasingly eager to explore further ways pharmacies could be used to deliver public health services.
The time was ripe for an examination of the sector and in late-2015 the Federal Government’s Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation got underway. This review, the first of its kind in 20 years, was designed to be broad-ranging in order to ‘re-think the role of community pharmacy and provide new and innovative ideas on what community pharmacy should look like in the future’. Attracting input from a broad range of interested parties, the Review was due to release its findings and recommendations in 2017.
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