Opportunity is being squandered because the creativity of self-employed pharmacists is not being harnessed.
And by self-employed I am not referring to the owners of the 5000 odd pharmacies scattered around Australia, but to those pharmacists who have identified a business opportunity and have set up in a normal business structure to deliver their pharmaceutical product or service to an end user (patient, community pharmacy, a nursing home, a public hospital or any other potential end-user).
Some examples include the provision of a medication review service, the provision of a Dose Administration Aid service, an IT company to deliver useful clinical/administrative programs, or the provision of a locum service.
The prime customers for these services are normally community pharmacies. In many instances the community pharmacy may retain employee pharmacists to provide the same services as a component of their pharmacy service mix.
It is this latter model that is favoured by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA), and generally funding for these services is tied to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
This can leave independent contractors out in the cold as they have to rely on development funding generated from their own cash flows, and be forced to defend themselves against the formidable activities of the PGA designed to discourage their formation in the first place, or to disrupt their service delivery, ensuring that they do not remain profitable or organised.
As a result, independent research around new patient-focussed pharmacy services is virtually non-existent, and with most government grants being managed by the PGA, they are naturally pushed in the direction of projects that only benefit pharmacy owners.
There was once a point in time where pharmacists, whether pharmacy owners or employees, treated each other as equals, and with dignity and respect.
The PGA has always been a registered trade union of employers but did not always act like the trade unions that wielded their power to make unreasonable demands rather than negotiate.
How times have changed, with the PGA now inching towards their more militant trade union counterparts.
It is this attitudinal change that is resented by non-pharmacy owners; particularly those who wish to make their contribution to their profession and to the community at large.
One size does not fit all as the federal government seeks to deal with one body to represent pharmacy. Even to the extent of squeezing pharmacy wholesalers into the umbrella of a PGA negotiated Community Service Obligation, an unwelcome scheme foisted on wholesalers and negotiated by an organisation (PGA) that has no experience in wholesaling at all.
So that component of the Fourth Community Agreement, negotiated as an afterthought, is starting to unravel.
The PSA, a true representative of all pharmacists, is also at loggerheads with the PGA.
But there are some cracks beginning to appear in the PGA fabric.
The sudden resignation of Kieran Schneeman is a pointer.
It is believed that his departure primarily occurred because of the lack of support for his reforms in bringing financial excesses into line.
i2P has commented on this problem for some time and has noted that the PGA executive have a lifestyle equating to the “rich and famous” when they pretend to be engaged in PGA business.
It was the integrity of Kieran Schneeman that enabled his excellent network of contacts to be fostered on behalf of the organisation he represented.
It was that very same network that delivered some spectacular results on behalf of the PGA. The lack of respect for Mr Schneeman will reflect badly on the PGA executive and they will lose a lot of support politically and in the bureaucracy of state and federal governments, an area in which Mr Schneerman had a history of trust, integrity and influence.
Member interest in the PGA is waning because the PGA is no longer relevant to its members and is not truly representing their interests.
Recent state branch elections are a testament to that, where in the major states, under half the membership turned out for a vote.
Again, i2P has commented on this trend for some time, and would simply comment further that an organisation that does not appear to represent all of its members and is managing member’s money in a way that is not considered efficient, is at odds with major pharmacy organisations, is losing political friends and key management personnel and is isolating private pharmacist service businesses through discriminatory practices – this is not an organisation intending to survive.
Unless PGA members begin to ask hard questions of their executive now, they will not be in a position to defend themselves when major investors present in 2010 demanding a piece (or all) of the action.
And the first question should be to give a full and transparent itemised account of what has been spent on expense allowances for each member of the PGA executive, and demand that this become an ongoing exercise.
The second question should be how much money was spent on software development, principally MedsIndex and Scriptx and what was the PGA cost (developmental and ongoing in the consortium formed to manage the software).
MedsIndex would only operate properly if access became available for all a patient’s prescriptions from all the pharmacies visited by that patient.
How this could be done privately and securely (even with a patient’s permission) has never been clearly spelled out.
ScriptX, the software that looks like a derivative from some very early PGA efforts performed initially under a $4.5 million government grant that subsequently became a patent application with ownership vested in some PGA executive and consultants in some mysterious way. This patent supposedly was given over to the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) when opposition became evident to its weak claims of new invention, but may have been rebirthed in a private company that has attempted to register an innovation patent for the software.
Whatever the real story, the consortium has collapsed, and PGA members have asked no hard questions of the PGA executive since that collapse.
i2P has long commented on the potential for conflict of interest issues that arises from this type of PGA activity and firmly believes that this process should come from small, (preferably pharmacist –owned) service companies.
But how will they get a toehold with the PGA actively opposing them by using member’s funds to develop an opposition product?
Surely the PGA would better serve its members by providing a ratings agency for software, leaving the development (and the cost) to the range of companies able to do a better job?
There is an old saying: “There are none so blind as those who cannot see”.
It is evident that the PGA cannot see the damage it is weaving through the entire profession, simply to achieve their own selfish agendas.
A peak pharmacy body would solve most of these problems, particularly in the management of grant funds and providing a single negotiating agency for government.
It is time to set boundaries around what the PGA is supposed to do and get them to “butt-out” of activities that should not be their concern.
As to the pharmacists with a desire to become self-employed through their own service company, there are now some moves to provide them with an organisation to promote their interests.
Anyone with an interest in seeing this happen should contact the editor of i2P through the “contact us” panel on the site home page.