Mayor Tom Kennedy is throwing his weight behind local pharmacies, who say a change coming along in September to the way medicines are handed out will affect their businesses.
The cost-saving change – which according to NSW Health means, if your doctor agrees, you will be able to buy two months’ worth (60-days) of common PBS-listed medicines for the price of a single prescription, rather than the current one month’s supply, is due to come into force on September 1.
But Cllr Kennedy raised a Mayoral Minute at the full council meeting requesting the Far West region be exempt from the planned 60-day dispensing of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
When the change was announced back in April, industry body the Pharmacy Guild reacted strongly, saying the change would lead to pharmacy closures.
The planned move to a 60-day system has been in force without any issues for decades in many western countries, including the UK and Europe.
The Australia-wide change will give doctors the option to prescribe a two-month supply (rather than the current one month supply) of more than 320 medicines on the PBS to people with ongoing conditions, such as heart disease, cholesterol, high and low blood pressure and Crohn disease.
“We all want to make sure we’ve got cheaper medicine, particularly for the community, but the main users who will benefit most are the people that are infrequent users,” Mayor Kennedy claimed after he met with local pharmacy operators.
“Some of the concerns that were raised by the pharmacies in town is the 60-day dispensing could actually cause harm to people who already struggle with confusion and memory loss and could result in extra overdoses deliberately or accidentally,” he said. “It also could result in a reduction in people employed in local pharmacies.”
Of course, prescriptions are not the only services pharmacies offer at a cost to consumers but it is a part of their income.
“The other concern that the pharmacists have is because we don’t have good access to medication in Broken Hill, the 60-day dispensing could leave a shortage for other uses altogether, as they don’t carry the same amount of stock as some of the bigger cities, so, for these reasons, I was happy to support the pharmacy representatives when they came to council with these concerns,” said Cllr Kennedy.
Cllr Darriea Turley AM said she understood the concerns of local pharmacies, but pointed out a report last year showed the more remotely people lived, the more complex that region’s health requirements were.
“I agree that we should be reclassified, there’s an opportunity to save money for those with chronic disease, for the elderly, and for those with disability,” she said. “But for every one of us living in a rural or remote community, we have already been told that we have a lower life expectancy and that we have high chronic disease, [so] I can’t support this motion.”
“The most vulnerable patients, concession card holders, will save just $43 per year for medicines,” said Cllr Kennedy who took his figures from NSW Health information which also says, “the changes will mean at least six million Australians who need regular medicines for chronic conditions will reduce their medicine costs, some by as much as half”.
“The most amount of savings that anyone’s going to get from the 60-day dispensing are customers without a concession card,” said Cllr Kennedy, “and they may save up to $180 per year if they use enough of the medications.
“I have no doubt that the new scheme will result in the cutting of opening hours and job losses at pharmacies in regional communities such as Broken Hill. This potential for loss of service and employment would far outweigh the small savings,” said Mr Kennedy.
“If you have pharmacists coming in, meeting with you, and telling you exactly what’s going to happen, to ignore that advice would be wrong,” he said.
Councillors Page, Turley and Browne voted against the motion, which was passed by a majority of councillors.