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Big pharmacy chains endanger customers during COVID-19 crisis

Local Pharmacist Peter Crothers has called out problems with the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme during the coronavirus scare PHOTO TWH

Bourke residents requiring medications for asthma and other chronic illness were being put at risk because of stockpiling by large pharmacy groups, according to local pharmacist Peter Crothers.

Mr Crothers said asthma reliever puffers like Ventolin and Asmol were in short supply, and ran out last week, not because consumers were panic buying in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but because large pharmacy groups had cleared the warehouses of stock.

“It is plainly obvious that there were predatory purchases, and that these purchases had triggered the shortages we’ve seen” he said.

“This strategic purchasing is very worrying because the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is a national public health institution. Its purpose is to ensure equity of access of essential medicines for all Australians. That’s why it exists.”

“Equity of access means ‘according to need’, so for example, under the PBS, pensioners and others who have less ability to pay, don’t pay as much for medicines as other people.

“Equitable also means that, say, people in Bourke, Brewarrina or Cobar can receive medicines as quickly as people who live in the cities without paying extra.

“For example, we get five deliveries each week just like they do in the cities and there is a freight cost equalisation system which means rural pharmacies don’t pay extra freight charges and rural people don’t get charged extra.

Equitable also means that medicine is available to everyone and what has happened on this occasion is that the system has been revealed as a ‘first-in-best-dressed’ system.

“So, people with very deep pockets have been able to purchase fabulous amounts of stock to the extent that there is none left for others, and that is not equitable,” Mr Crothers said.

Read more in the printed edition of the Western Herald.

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