Guest panellist Richard Vincent, Chair of NPSA, explains it is essential that NPSA members are central to decision making in health logistics and that their collective value is understood. Our business is singularly focused on health. We are the experts in supporting pharmacy and its customers in supply chain management. The transcript follows below:
Richard Vincent: First of all, if I could just formally recognise the former chair of the NPSA Mark Hooper, not sure if Mark is in the room, but Mark was the chair for I think probably two agreements and obviously put in a lot of effort and I want to thank him for his leadership. Wish you well mate in whatever you do, so thank you for that.
There are some common things coming through between Jane and Anna and the wholesale piece, and if I come back to what we’ve experienced the last eighteen months, we rolled through bushfires and floods, and every year we have cyclones, particularly in your neck of the woods, and then into COVID19. The core message that I want to talk to you about is the role of the wholesaler in all of that. You’ll see on the slide, it talks about supply solutions that protect the health of Australians, of all Australians. We get paid for lifting and shifting, but that’s only a part of what we do, it’s solving everyday problems. If you think about what happened with the bushfires, the fire ravaged areas that we needed to get into, every day the wholesalers were meeting and working out how they could work with the CFS, the Army, the Navy, the Police, local pharmacies, to get products to them, and we were able to do it.
Roll forward into COVID19, and in four weeks, we supplied seventy million medicines to community pharmacies, and if you say roughly three hundred million scripts per annum, that is almost twenty percent of the annual volume in a four-week period. Within twenty-four hours, our real time data was telling us that we were going to have some surges and shortages in stock and obviously we started working with the manufacturers, we started working with pharmacists in the Guild to work through how we would manage that.
Immediately all three wholesalers, as Anna did, we got ACCC authorisation so that we could talk to each other. You know the wholesalers have trouble talking to each other, so that was an interesting process in itself, but we were able to map where stock was right through the system to make sure we could manage the surges and manage the out of stocks. What it led to was rationing and allocation of stock which we did with the manufacturers to make sure that rural pharmacies, remote pharmacies, small pharmacies, all had access to stock. Everybody wanted more stock, but the reality was there was equitable access right through the supply chain.
How does that happen? Because the wholesalers do more than have thirty-four distribution centres working around the clock, they’re actually able to come up with logistical solutions. We are logistics experts, we are the logistics experts of the industry, and if I had to make one point today, it would be that that’s how the industry should use us. If you think about what happened through COVID, it shone a light on the whole of the supply chain, and what did it show? It showed what you all have known for years, the supply chain is resilient, its robust, its adaptable, its agile. Yes, we dealt with out of stocks, at the end of the day we minimised the impact of all of that, and it’s because in the middle of that, between the manufacturer and between the pharmacy, you have logistics experts that care about this industry. We are only in one industry – health. We are here to support you; we have the same objectives. If I think about the seventh CPA and the negotiations that went on there, I want to thank George Tambassis for first of all his courage, but also his leadership with us, the wholesalers, that he was comfortable with us having our own conversation with the health minister and the department because he trusts us, because he knows we have the industry at heart, and I hope through that process, Trent, that you’ve seen that we’re capable of having our own conversation and still fitting in with the overall objectives of the industry, so I want to thank George for that, because that took some courage for him to do that and I’m sure Trent will follow suit in that regard.
We heard the Health Minister yesterday talk about continuing to invest in the wholesalers, and that’s given us the certainty to invest further over the next four years. We’ve invested six hundred and fifty million in the last ten years, not just in hard assets like distribution centres and technology, but systems that allow us to be able to see where stock is at any moment of the day, and that’s critical for us because we see ourselves as health solutions experts in the logistics space. If I could finish with a couple of messages, one is the same as Anna, that we need to work together, the learnings from this period need to be embedded in the supply chain, people don’t need to hang on to information and data about stock, it’s better that there’s transparency right through the process and we will optimise the outcome if that’s the case. The other piece is, just as you do in your pharmacy when you are looking at your teams, you say you want to build a high performing team, you look for experts in various areas that compliment your skills. In this industry, we have an expertise, we have to be at the table when we’re talking about supply chain issues, and major issues that impact the industry, as we should have been with the vaccines. Whilst I know that the Guild recognises what our role is and the value we add, feels like we’ve still got a little bit of work to do with the health minister and the department in that space. I might stop there.
Suzanne Greenwood: Thank you very much Richard. I think you’re absolutely correct, there’s more work to be done. I’ve sat around board tables in Sirius House which is the main building health centre in Canberra, and I’ve sat there listening to Trent talk to them about why you’re not using the wholesalers more with the COVID vaccine rollout, you think that things like that are a bit of a no-brainer, but anyway.