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Speech Notes: pharmacy sector set to explode

Community pharmacy sector set to explode

General Debate Speech – Sue Kedgley - DELIVERED AT 3.25PM

Mr Speaker

I have in my possession a memorandum that was sent by the Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand to all District Health Board members over a week ago, which states that the entire pharmacy sector in New Zealand is in crisis as a result of a 20-month delay in implementing the new pharmacy service contract.

Let me quote from that memorandum. "The community pharmacy sector is at the end of its tether and is about to explode."

Strong words from the normally cautious and conservative pharmacy Guild.

So why does the Guild believe that the sector is about to explode? Primarily because of a 20 month delay in implementing the new pharmacy services contract, which sets the pharmacists' dispensing fee and pays for the safe dispensing of subsidised medicines to the public.

And the prospect now of still further delays - until April of next year at least and it could be even longer - because some District Health Board's are refusing to implement the new contract because they claim they simply don't have enough money to pay for the increasing demands for medicines subsidised by the pharmaceutical budget, and the pharmaceutical dispensing fee.

Let me quote from a letter the Guardian Peninsula Pharmacy in Te Atatatu sent to the Minister of Health last Thursday, and emailed to me - and probably other MP's. "The DHB tells us they are not prepared to accept a contract that they do not have funding for. They tell us that they are already in deficit, and your Ministry has told them that there is no more money. All this means is that we are being penalised for a system that is inefficient, bankrupt and a bureaucratic disaster."

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The memorandum says DHB's are making the pharmacy sector the meat in the sandwich of their funding squabble with the government. They are turning the pharmacy sector into the latest victim of the DHB funding crisis, and "it is completely unreasonable and unacceptable for a sector to be held to ransom in this way."

I agree entirely. It is completely unreasonable for the pharmacy sector to be held to ransom in this way.

It is completely unreasonable for the entire pharmacy sector to be plunged into crisis to pay for the increasing demand for pharmaceuticals - because the Ministry of Health and DHB's did not budget enough money for the volume of pharmaceuticals that are being used in New Zealand.

If DHB's claim they don't have enough funds to pay for the increasing demand for pharmaceuticals, then the Minister of Health needs to step in to ensure that additional funding is provided to them.

We need to remember that pharmacists are totally dependent on the Pharmacy services contract to pay for not only subsidised pharmaceuticals but the pharmacists' dispensing fee that is given to pharmacists to pay for the safe dispensing of pharmaceuticals.

Although costs have risen, there have been no increases in the contract for four years now, which the sector says is resulting in significant under-funding.

The pharmacy sector is already in something of a crisis in New Zealand and the contract delays and consequent under-funding of the sector is deepening the crisis. The pharmacy sector is losing qualified pharmacists at twice the rate as they are being trained and young pharmacists are fleeing the country, as they don't consider the remuneration reflects their skills and years of study.

Pharmacy staff and owners say they are more stressed now than ever before. "The stress of constantly trying to cope with my workload in an acutely under-funded profession. The ever increasing anxiety of trying to find relievers so I can have a break...the sleepless nights worrying about the accuracy and quality of our daily work due to unsafe staffing levels..."

Mr Speaker, a year or so ago the pharmacy sector entered into a disputes resolution process with David Caygill to sort out issues surrounding the pharmacy contract. The dispute resolution process, which was completed in November last year, established the basis for a new agreement that was to commence on 1 January 2002.

I want to know, why this has never happened. Why has that agreement never been implemented? What is going on here?

The Guild says that the contract delays are putting pharmacy services and patients at risk, and that any further delays in implementing the contract would be devastating to the sector. I therefore call on the Minister of Health to end the crisis by requiring all DHB's to implement the new Pharmacy services contract immediately.

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