Why isn’t Australia making better use of its pharmacy resources?

That’s the question on health consultant Simon Burrow’s mind as he jetsets across the world. He’s picked up a few ideas from South Africa and the United States that he suggests might be useful/relevant for health reform in Oz.

He writes:

“The recent primary healthcare debate and financial arm-wrestling going on between the Government and the Pharmacy Guild could have some interestingly different results if only the powers-to-be would bury their self-interests and look elsewhere in the world.

A recent consulting trip to South Africa and the USA has revealed some activity which could be used in Australia.

Many of the restrictions on privatising and widening the scope of pharmacy and making healthcare more accessible to the wider community had their origin in South Africa in the late 1960s.

Driven by necessity with the need to accelerate the provision of basic health care to all people, the ANC government has embarked on a progressive dropping of the regulations allowing corporate ownership, but with strict pharmacological controls.

Despite the bruising of the SAMA (South African Medical Association) egos, two major chains (think Priceline and Terry White) have emerged along with a number of banner groups (think Soul Pattinson and Amcal).

Working closely with private medical insurance companies, the Health Department have imposed strict pricing and dispensing fees and a proliferation of Clinics, staffed by qualified nurses, in many of the pharmacies.

The community now go to the Clinics for their flu injections, baby counselling, and other basic healthcare. It works. The good independent pharmacies are thriving. The tacky, inefficient ones have died.

Move across the big Atlantic pond and it has been impressive to see how the US Health Department have harnessed the distribution power of the large chains (CVS; Walgreens; Rite Aid) to make the H1N1 flu vaccine available. Pharmacists are giving the injections and streams of yellow school buses arrive at the pharmacies for the children to be innoculated.

All this is happening as President Obama takes on the BIG one of American politics – healthcare. Even the Republicans are saying that they realise that Americans will have to contribute more. It’s scary that 40 million citizens do not have medical insurance.

Some lessons for Australia? I think so.”