The lengthy queues at state hospitals and clinics for the provision of both chronic and acute medication could be alleviated if the Department of Health were to enter into a partnership with the private sector, both now and in the future as the NHI is developed and implemented.
Drew Horner, CEO of United South African Pharmacies, says, "The best solution for patients using public health services is for them to be able collect their medication at their nearest pharmacy, rather than travelling miles to the nearest clinic or hospital, where they then need to wait in long queues where supplies and stock are often not guaranteed."
Recently Clicks CE David Kneale said the pharmacy sector had to be viewed as a primary part of the NHI and claimed that Clicks corporate 'chemist counters' are more convenient than independent pharmacies. There are approximately 220 Clicks stores which are situated principally in urban and suburban areas, with a large number in malls.
Pharmacies more convenient
Horner says the facts speak for themselves. Independent retail pharmacies cover the entire country with a network of approximately 1500 pharmacist-owned pharmacies across urban, peri-urban and rural areas; in some small towns the local independent pharmacy is the only pharmacy for miles around.
"There are more independent pharmacies spread over a wider area than there are Clicks pharmacies. That said, this shouldn’t be a battle; the more private pharmacies which can provide medication on behalf of the state the better for patients. We need to work together."
"We also know that patients want to go local when it comes to pharmacy services," says Horner.
In a recent survey of consumers conducted in independent pharmacies across the Western Cape, consumers rated convenience as the second most important determining factor in their choice of pharmacy. The most important factor was their relationship with their individual pharmacist, with price running in a distant third place.
The research revealed that 88% of people surveyed will not travel further than five kilometres from home to a pharmacy, even if they could get a better price on their medication at another pharmacy.
For all these reasons, United South African Pharmacies (USAP) has offered to meet with the Department of Health with a view to rolling out the supply of chronic medication to state patients.
In the same way, using independent pharmacies as part of the NHI makes sense. We would like to reiterate our offer to be of service to the Department of Health and look forward to meeting with them to take this discussion further.
(Prepared by FD SA on behalf of United South African Pharmacies, February 2010)