The review, launched by health minister Sussan Ley in 2015, was part of an A$18.9bn (US$14.4bn) agreement struck by the federal government and the pharmacy sector.
It has led to the publication of the Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation Discussion Paper, which contains suggestions from some contributors that pharmacists should focus only on providing conventional medical treatments.
“It was put to the panel that community pharmacists face conflicts of interest between their role as retailers and as healthcare professionals. This tension between treating consumers as customers or patients was attributed to the contrast in the remuneration from dispensing and the revenue generated from the sale of over-the-counter medicines and complementary products,” the paper stated.
It went on to add: “It was also claimed that many complementary products do not have evidence-based health benefits and as such, the sale of these products in a pharmacy setting may misinform consumers of their effectiveness and undermine the professional integrity of community pharmacists,” before posing a number of questions for further discussion, including: “Should complementary products be available at a community pharmacy, or does this create a conflict of interest for pharmacists and undermine health care?”
However, Carl Gibson, chief executive of Complementary Medicines Australia, said it was important that consumers could purchase their complementary medicines from a pharmacy, and attacked the “fringe group” Friends of Science in Medicine for its “attempt to condemn complementary medicines by claiming a lack of evidence.”
“Increasingly, individuals have been seen to take a more proactive approach to healthcare, becoming more confident in self-selection and willing to take preventive measures to support their health,” Gibson said.
“Data from 2015 indicates that Australian consumers still prefer to purchase their complementary medicines from pharmacies due to a large offering of product range and the availability of professional advice from the supervising pharmacist or healthcare professional.”
He insisted that many complementary medicines have a strong basis in evidence, while arguing even the Australian Medical Association “acknowledges that some conventional treatments have a low level of evidence.”
“The fact is that all health disciplines need to continue to increase their evidence base,” he added.
Gibson’s rejection of what the paper referred to as a “non-retail environment” for pharmacies, was echoed by the national president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, George Tambassis.
"It would be irresponsible to jettison a pharmacy model which has clearly demonstrated its merit," he said.
"Why would you dismantle a good system that achieves its objectives, just to blindly follow an economic theory?"
There is now a two-month formal consultation period over the paper.