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January 2002 issue Pharmacy Today magazine


The government and its PR machine may have slipped a gear in its attempts to sell the new ownership regime to pharmacists.

The first news arrived as a cabinet paper posted on the Health Minister's website on the evening of December 21 - as most of the country began the Christmas break. Media interest over this period was minimal.

Almost a month later, a Ministry of Health press release and form letter further enraged many in the profession.

The Pharmacy Guild says it was not formally notified of the changes before Christmas and described the cabinet paper's internet airing as a "cynical ambush designed to minimise public awareness of a highly controversial decision."

No ambush

Annette King says there was no ambush. Regular consultations were part of the development of the Health Professionals Competency Assurance (HPCA) Bill and ownership issue over the past year.

The documents were put on her website soon after they were signed-off by cabinet, she says.

"I can see that it (the planned changes) is a challenge to the Pharmacy Guild's role - they have a position to protect. It is not for the benefit of health professionals, it is for the benefit of public health and safety."

The Pharmacy Guild is guarding its comments until it meets with the Health Minister on February 14.

However, guild chief executive Murray Burns says while the guild works for its members, its arguments on ownership have always been based on what is best for the public good.

National's health spokesman Roger Sowry believes the minister's handling of ownership so far has been done "in bad faith.

"She gets her staff to put it (the cabinet minutes) on her website, then she's off to the Cook Islands before Christmas.

"One wonders what she's embarrassed about in Cabinet's decision."


Ministry of Health deputy director-general of sector policy Dr Gillian Durham's January press release and a letter to pharmacists stating, pharmacists will be free from the "paperwork associated with shopkeeping," failed to soothe many in the profession.

Pharmacist/proprieters spoken to by Pharmacy Today say, next to the bureaucracy surrounding state-subsidised pharmaceuticals, business paperwork is insignificant.

Pharmaceutical Society president Bernie McKone says the ministry's argument misses the point.

"As a pharmacist, I was incensed by that form of spin. Our bureaucracy workload surrounds prescription medicines, not bookkeeping and GST of which the ministry is quite aware - it's a very, very thin argument."

Society vice president and lawyer Wally Bain goes further.

"I've never heard a weaker, more pathetic justification for anything than that letter. It's simply errant nonsense."

The ministry has failed to provide logical justification for proposed changes, he says.

However, Gillian Durham defends the statements saying retail paperwork contributes to administration tasks reducing pharmacists' consultation time with patients.

Views on the current state and future of pharmacy is varied, she says, referring to five pharmacy sector personalities journalists are encouraged to contact in the ministry's press release.

The Pharmacy Guild views the official delivery of the proposed ownership changes as "extremely patronising" and "misleading".

The proposed proprietor licensing system with its accompanying bureaucracy will likely add a new layer of paperwork and complications, says guild vice president Richard Heslop.

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