Pharmacists shelve medicines campaign as talks begin

A peak pharmacy body has shelved its campaign against 60-day medicine dispensing and agreed to talks to iron out an agreement that will not jeopardise the viability of local pharmacies.

Pharmacy Guild president Trent Twomey hopes the negotiations with the federal government will ensure pharmacies are remunerated fairly for medicine dispensing and can continue to operate sustainably under the new scheme.

“We thank the prime minister and the health minister for hearing our concerns, and 60-day dispensing, along with other reforms, will now be dealt with in the normal way under a community pharmacy agreement," he said.

Under Labor's new policy, which started on Friday, consumers with chronic conditions are able to get two months’ worth of medicine for the price of one.

People with a heart condition, Crohn’s disease, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and many other conditions would get important cost of living relief, Health Minister Mark Butler said in a statement to mark the change.

"Everyone with a Medicare card taking one of these medicines will save up to $180 per year, per medicine. Concession card holders will save $43 per medicine," he said.

When announced, the changes were met with fierce opposition from the peak pharmacy bodies, with concerns some pharmacies would have to close. 

But bringing forward negotiations on the next community pharmacy agreement by more than a year has convinced the guild to suspend its campaign.

“Pharmacists are ready, willing and able to step up and provide more care and services to patients, at a time when the health system is under significant strain, and we look forward to those opportunities within the eighth community pharmacy agreement," Mr Twomey said.

The deals usually last five years and spell out how much pharmacies are reimbursed by the government for dispensing drugs listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The opposition has also taken issue with the changes.

Mr Butler urged the Liberals to stop trying to overturn a measure that would help people.

"I encourage (Opposition Leader) Peter Dutton to stop trying to block this measure and get behind it," he said.

Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said the coalition and community pharmacists had won the fight for further negotiations.

"Our focus was always on resolving the legitimate concerns that were raised for the serious impacts that unconsulted, unmodelled and rushed policy could have on patients and communities," Senator Ruston said.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Nicole Higgins said the government's change would bring immediate benefits for some the most vulnerable people in the community, with fewer trips to pick up medicines and repeat scripts.

Consumers Health Forum CEO Elizabeth Deveny said the measure was a "significant win" for consumers to make healthcare more affordable, accessible and equitable.

“Amid growing cost of living pressures, many consumers have been finding it increasingly difficult to stay well, having to choose between the costs of vital medications and other essentials," she said in a statement.

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