The chief executive of Australia’s largest pharmaceutical distributor says there has been “very little change in demand” in the first weeks of the new policy.
Before the 60-day dispensing was implemented on Sept. 1, pharmacy advocates waged a sustained public relations campaign warning of everything from increased overdose rates to drug shortages.
The sustained effort was led by pharmacy owners, but also involved Australia’s largest pharmaceutical distributor, Sigma Healthcare, which petitioned the federal government to halt the reform.
“Common medicines… may be at risk of persistent supply shortages, further exacerbating supply chains under enormous pressure,” it said in a May statement on its website.
But on Wednesday, Sigma Healthcare Half-year results briefing the webinar revealed that these fears have so far been unfounded.
“The regulatory change to introduce 60-day drug dispensing began on September 1, 2023, and so far we have seen very little change in demand for the affected products,” Sigma chief executive Vikesh Ramsunder said in a webinar.
“We continue to engage with the government through the NPSA [National Pharmaceutical Services Association] ensure a commercially viable industry under the Eighth CPA [Community Pharmacy Agreement]which was pushed forward 12 months.’
The ASX-listed company’s director of corporate affairs, Gary Woodford, also confirmed that “we’re not seeing a big impact at the moment”.
With retail, wholesale and distribution pharmacy operations, Sigma is well placed to assess the response to the new policy setting as it works with more than 1,200 aligned pharmacies, including around 500 branded pharmacies operating Amcal, Guardian, Discount Drug Stores and PharmaSave. brands.
It reported a profit of $11.2 million for the six months to July 31, compared with a loss of $1.5 million a year earlier.
RACGP Vice President Dr Bruce Willett said newsGP he had not seen or heard of any shortage of medicine since the reform began.
“Milk comes in one liter or two liter containers and people drink the same amount of milk, it doesn’t create a shortage,” he said.
“It’s the same as 60-day prescriptions – people don’t take twice as much because they get twice as much when they go to the pharmacy.
“If anything, I think it’s a little bit better as we get out of COVID and the supply chain issues start to subside a little bit.”
Years in the making, the 60-day dispensing now doubles the maximum number of medicines pharmacists can dispense for a range of stable conditions listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
It is expected to affect about six million people and potentially save them $180 a year or more if they take multiple medications.
But its development was far from a done deal, with some politicians opposing the move in line with the Australian Pharmacists Guild – one of the country’s major political donors – whose president warned of “guaranteed drug shortages across the country”, resulting in “millions of patients are worse off.
“I don’t want any community in Australia to have a Hunger Games problem where some patients get double the medication they need while others get nothing,” Professor Trent Twomey said.
But despite the best efforts of his opponents, the changes passed the Senate and Dr Willett said he had not come across a patient since then who was not interested in longer prescriptions.
“I don’t think anyone would really accept it [a medication shortage] was going to be a problem and that was fully demonstrated – it was never a problem and it still is not a problem,” he said.
“The Guild’s publicity may have backfired on them because it generated a lot more interest from patients coming in and asking for 60-day prescriptions.
“Now that it’s inside, it will be very difficult for any government to break free, but I’m sure the Guild hasn’t given up on this.
When fully implemented on September 1, 2024, 60-day prescriptions will be available for more than 300 PBS drugs.
The drugs to be made available in the second and third phases are still being finalized.
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60-Day Dispense Extended Dispense PBS Pharmaceuticals Benefit Scheme Regulations
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