Pharmacists selling sweets, newspapers to stay in business

Lovy-Beh

KUALA LUMPUR: Some 50 per cent of community pharmacists are operating like “mini-markets” to keep their businesses afloat as they cannot break even depending solely on the sale of medicine, said the Malaysian Community Pharmacy Guild (MCPG).

Speaking to The Star, MCPG president Lovy Beh painted a bleak picture for community pharmacists (CP), saying that as many as 50 per cent of independent CPs were not doing well, resulting in many of them “over-servicing”.

“Over-servicing means pharmacists sell consumer products like a mini-market. So, non-pharmaceuticals like newspapers, magazines, sweets and ice-cream are sold in the stores to attract more customers,” she said, adding they could no longer depend solely on selling medicine to break even.

Beh was refuting allegations that pharmacists were selling medicines at high prices, pointing out that previously, it was common for pharmacists to charge 25-30 per cent above cost to keep their operations going.

“But these days, they are charging just an additional 15 per cent. Some of them are even selling drugs at below cost,” Beh told The Star.

She said the “highly competitive market” was forcing CPs to sell medicines below cost, adding that the guild was seeing “a lot more closures of businesses” of late. It has 13,147 members throughout the country.

The CPs, she said, were forced to compete with chain pharmacies and doctors, who were permitted to dispense drugs in Malaysia.

Beh said Malaysia did not practise Dispensing Separation (DS) in which doctors prescribe medicines and pharmacists dispense.

She cited countries like Australia and Britain which practised a DS system whereby the cost and the retail price reimbursement for medicines were standardised by the government.

Malaysia, she said, should also move in this direction.

On Oct 10, at a forum on “Competition Law in the Pharmaceutical Sector” here, Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Hamzah Zainuddin described Malaysia as a “high-priced island” for pharmaceutical drugs.

He said a lack of government control had led to manufacturers, distributors and retailers setting the prices.