I
read

that the mad monk and the apothecaries are close to an agreement that
will assist Australia’s most protected business sector for another five
years. And in the process, the deal will prevent retail giants placing
dispensaries in supermarkets. It will also keep prices up while
offering little real benefit to consumers.

The middle-aged pharmacists who run the
Pharmacy Guild love self employment. Not for them the shackles of working for
Coles Myer, Woolworths or Priceline.

A typical Australian pharmacy generates
about two thirds of its income from filling prescriptions. An additional chunk
of their earnings comes from sales of products where sales are limited to
pharmacies. Some non-prescription medicines may be sold only in pharmacies,
others can be sold in supermarkets, but only in small pack
sizes.

The chemists have traditionally argued
that they provide essential advice and play a role in preventing abuse and
misuse of pharmaceuticals. However, I suspect the argument is
specious.

I quote from personal
experience.

Ibuprofen (sold as Nurofen and other
brands) is a non steroidal anti inflammatory, at the safer end of that group of
drugs. For many years, it was only available on prescription. Several years ago
it was made available as an over-the-counter medicine in pharmacies and in early
2004, to the horror
of the monopolists, it became available in supermarkets.

Some people should NOT take ibuprofen,
including those with a history of gastric bleeding or ulcers.

For some time my aging right knee has
required me to consume ibuprofen from time to time. At one stage I feared it
had become a food group. Each time I have bought it, I have walked up, asked
for it, paid for it and walked out with the parting words: ”This is the best
thing I have ever taken for my ulcer pain.” Every time, except one, this remark
went either unchallenged, or worse, was greeted with words to the effect of
“that’s good.” To her eternal credit, a young pharmacist in North Melbourne
pulled me up last year.

I know this is mischievous, and some might claim unfair.
However, my point is that while pharmacists seem keen to claim they are
protecting consumers, it is probably not the case. A very large
proportion of the sales of these pharmacy-only over the counter products are
being made by people little more qualified than those in the
supermarkets.
If Woolworths and Coles put dispensaries
into supermarkets, they will be staffed by registered pharmacists. Perhaps not
by the people who run the Pharmacy Guild, but they will be pharmacists. They might even
be the young enthusiastic pharmacists like the one in North
Melbourne.

Heaven help the pharmacists if the debate
getting under way in the US about mail-order prescription medicines ever reaches
our shores.

Pharmacists are without doubt our most
protected species.

Peter Fray

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