Queensland patients will suffer from Government decision to reject separate pharmacy council

A Gold Coast pharmacist is calling on the Queensland Government to re-consider their decision not to establish a state-based pharmacy council that would have the power to enforce on-premises health and safety standards and ensure pharmacies were compliant with current ownership rules.

Matthew Bellgrove from National Custom Compounding at Merrimac said Queensland was the only state in the country that didn’t have a separate statutory authority monitoring pharmacies and enforcing compliance with state legislation.

“This situation means that pharmacies who aren’t fully complying with legislation could be slipping through the cracks,” Matthew said, “ A dedicated Pharmacy Council, with industry-specific knowledge and more targeted resources, would be better equipped to investigate possible breaches and enforce compliance.”

Under the current regulatory model, Queensland Health is responsible for ensuring compliance with legislation concerning the ownership and operations of pharmacies in Queensland.

“All other states have Pharmacy Councils or similar authorities, and there are good reasons for it. It avoids the ‘tick-and-flick’ approach that can creep in when time and resources are tight,” Matthew said.

In October the Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Parliamentary Committee released their recommendations from the Inquiry into the establishment of a pharmacy council and transfer of pharmacy ownership in Queensland. One of the key recommendations was not to establish a Pharmacy Council, in line with other states, on the grounds that there was no evidence that it would result in better community outcomes.

However data presented to the Inquiry by the Queensland Productivity Commission (QPC),  shows that a very low number of pharmacies – only 161 – were inspected in Queensland in 2017-18. “At this rate of inspection pharmacies would be inspected every 7.3 years,” the QPC report said.

QPC data also shows that between 2013-14 and 2017-18 an average of 246 inspections were carried out in Queensland per year, meaning pharmacies were only inspected every 4.6 years during this period. In contrast, pharmacies in New South Wales are inspected every 1.5 years; pharmacies in Victoria are inspected very 2 years and in South Australia they’re inspected every 3 years. These states all have Pharmacy Councils responsible for carrying out the inspections.

In their report the Parliamentary Committee pointed to the fact that documented breaches in Queensland are lower than other states, in support of their position that a pharmacy council was unnecessary, however Matthew said this evidence was not compelling.

“Are Queensland breaches lower, year after year, because our regulator is doing a much better job than the other states and our pharmacists are toeing the line?” Matthew asked,  “Or are breaches lower because non-compliance is not getting picked up and reported by an under-resourced department whose people may not be aware of what to look for? I think it’s more likely to be the later.”

“Statistics of this kind can only reflect what’s being reported and not necessarily what’s happening on the ground.”

Matthew said a Pharmacy Council, operated along the same line as those in New South Wales and Victoria, was needed to ensure compliance was being properly policed and that public safety was not jeopardised.

“The pharmacy sector in Queensland needs more regulation, not less,” Matt said, “We need to weed out the unscrupulous operators.”

“As a compounding pharmacist I would welcome the opportunity to continually demonstrate the high safety standards I maintain at my pharmacy and I think any reputable pharmacy owner would feel the same.”