Supermarkets to applaud election of Victorian Labor Government?

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 1st December 2014
Supermarkets to applaud election of Victorian Labor Government?
Supermarkets to applaud election of Victorian Labor Government?

With a Labor Government elected in the State of Victoria over the weekend, the major supermarkets may be seeing opportunities to move into new business sectors, if Labor implements some of its election promises.

Last week Victorian Premier-elect Daniel Andrews announced a Labor Government would fund pharmacies across Victoria to stay open 24 hours a day and provide night nurses for on-the-spot medical advice.

Which ones will be the Labor government’s ‘Super Pharmacies’?

There is speculation that the 20 ‘ super pharmacies’ will be part of the 24/7 operation of the large supermarket groups. Unlike the private pharmacy groups they have existing supermarket operations that work in the same timeframe. It won’t cost the government anything, provides a public community benefit to support the expansion of the supermarkets into another area of business, and lessens potential tensions from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

In September 2014, Australian Food News reported that some industry commentators had suggested the debate about Australia’s major supermarket groups moving into pharmacy could be about to reignite, after the Harper Competition Review Draft report recommending that current recommendations on ownership and location of pharmacies was ‘unnecessary’. If recommendations around pharmacy ownership nationally are changed, and the ‘Super Pharmacies’ go ahead in the State of Victoria, they could represent a significant opportunity for Australia’s major supermarket groups.

Victorian ‘Super Pharmacies’

The Victorian Labor Party said it would support 20 pharmacies to become 24/7 Super Pharmacies. The pharmacies would be open 24 hours a day and a nurse will be present to provide medical advice between 6pm and 10pm – after most pharmacies and GP clinics close.

Under Labor’s $28.7 million plan to help families, shift workers and others in need of non-emergency care, 15 24/7 Super Pharmacies would operate across Melbourne with five more across regional Victoria.

The Victorian Labor Party said 24/7 Super Pharmacies would give families an alternative to going to hospital, reducing pressure on doctors and nurses in clogged emergency departments.

Under the plan, nurses would provide face to face advice on symptoms in the same way as the Nurse-On-Call service does over the phone. They may also offer services such as wound care, blood pressure checks, immunisation and advice on referrals.

Consultation would also occur in appropriately private facilities within the community pharmacy, and people will be seen on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.

Over half of people who attend hospital emergency departments in Victoria are Category 4 and 5 patients. Many of them could receive care without having to go to hospital.

“My wife and I know the feeling – one of the kids has a nasty bug or you’ve run out of Ventolin, but everything’s shut and we don’t know what to do,” Mr Andrews said.  “Right now, families only have two choices: race to a hospital or stay home and ride it out. Labor’s 24/7 Super Pharmacies gives families a sensible new option,” he said.

Supermarket pharmacy debate

Earlier in 2014, supermarket giant Woolworths came under fire from healthcare groups following an advertisement on job website Seek for student pharmacists.

Woolworths released a statement which said that the advertisements were part of its trial of a service performed by qualified nurses, where supermarket customers in nine stores were offered cholesterol and blood pressure checks. The trial began in October 2013.

“This is a free service that has received an overwhelmingly positive response from customers,” Woolworths said at the time. “In a survey of over 1,000 people who have used the service more than 90 per cent found it useful and valuable,” it said.

Woolworths said it respected that there were “clear rules” for these services, and that the trial would be “extensively reviewed” before a decision was made to roll the services out to more stores.

George Tambassis, PGA’s National President said that allowing Coles and Woolworths to take on pharmacy would not increase competition.

“There is no case study that I am aware of where supermarket entry has resulted in a net increase in players in a market in any industry; meat, poultry, general grocery, health foods, tobacco, liquor, petrol, insurance, you name it,” Mr Tambassis wrote in an opinion piece. “Giving supermarkets the right to enter the market will ultimately reduce the number of players in the market and therefore reduce competition,” he said.

“And prices won’t come down in the short term because most PBS prices are fixed by Government – and not in the long term either, because more market power for Coles and Woolworths ultimately means less competition and higher prices,” Mr Tambassis said.