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Local pharmacies under threat as chemist giants move into industry

The future of local pharmacies is at risk due to growing competition from retail giants entering the market.

They're offering free prescriptions and cheaper products, leading to concerns from some in the industry that patient care is not the priority.

"These new players are starting to bring focus back on product and price rather than healthcare", said Jeff Harrison, head of Auckland University's Pharmacy degree.

The new players include Chemist Warehouse, which opened its first New Zealand store in 2017, and kiwi owned Bargain Chemist, which first opened last year.

"Obviously the pharmacists that work there have the same qualifications... but students have commented about the different feel in a Chemist Warehouse compared to community pharmacists," Mr Harrison said.

The Pharmacy Guild told 1 News the pharmacies it supports are worried about the future.

"They are having to cut services to compete or else they’re going to be forced to close," the organisation's Chief Executive Andrew Gaudin said.

"Pharmacists won't be able to provide the higher level of services that the Government, the funders, the patients and communities want... also to ease some of that pressure off general practices who are extremely busy and pressured," West Auckland pharmacist Marie Bennett said.

"Just this morning I can think of a handful of patients who've walked in here unable to get general practice appointments today that I've been able to help as a firstline health professional" she said.

Her store is less than a 10 minute-drive from the sixth Chemist Warehouse site in Auckland, set to open its doors in the next week.

Its next location will be near Auckland Airport, followed by Glen Innes.

The NZ director of the Australian brand, Azman Haroon, told 1 NEWS he would like to see 15 stores trading here by the end of the year, and that the brand already has over 300 staff members in New Zealand.

Bargain Chemist is aiming to have 30 stores by 2021.

Both stores maintain patients care is their first priority and that they offer free standard prescriptions to remove barriers to healthcare.

Bargain Chemist’s Peter Shenoda told 1 News, "we have a promise to all our customers - we will aim to always provide them with the best price including prescriptions".

Mr Gaudin said he'd like to see the Government change its five dollar patient prescription charge.

"We're in dialogue with them, we see there's an opportunity to target those with the highest needs particularly," he said.

At the moment pharmacies are "just the tax collector" said Mrs Bennett.

She says her focus is now on differentiating her service, as a community health hub.

"There's immense value in a local relationship with general practice nursing and pharmacy and the other allied health professionals working together for that patient," she said.

"I've got four generations of families coming into this pharmacy and I know them well. I know what they’re going to ask me for and I know their doctors so that's worth gold."

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The retail giants entering the market are offering "free prescriptions" and cheaper products but some in the industry are concerned the focus on price means a lack of attention on patient care. Source: 1 NEWS