History of AFPSA

Friendly Society Pharmacies are a form of social enterprise. They are owned and operated by mutual Friendly Societies rather than pharmacists. These entities exist for the benefit of their members and all financial surpluses are reinvested into the business to improve services or provide discounted products for those members.

Since the 1830s, well before universal healthcare, Friendly Societies have provided members with access to good quality and affordable healthcare and the pharmacies (originally known as dispensaries) have supported their communities since the first one was established in Sydney in 1847.

Friendly Societies were usually founded by groups of people who shared a profession or trade, religious persuasion or saw a community need.

Friendly Society Pharmacy arose in a time of market failure. Medicines were expensive for working class people and many chemists adulterated their drugs, prolonging illness and treatment duration. By establishing their own dispensaries on a not-for-profit, cooperative basis, the Friendly Societies could ensure their members received quality medicines, as prescribed, at an affordable price.

In Australia, community pharmacy ownership is limited to Owner Pharmacists and Friendly Societies. Both models deliver products and services to their patients in accordance with the Pharmacy Acts in their respective states.

The Owner Pharmacist model requires the Pharmacy Owner to take on the task of business management as well as healthcare provision and the entities are very much profit driven. The owner takes all the risk of buying or renting premises, employing staff, overseeing compliance etc. As well as undertaking their professional role with patients.

By contrast, a Friendly Society Pharmacy is overseen by a Board of Directors from the community and managed by a dedicated operational team. Pharmacists are employees who are able to completely devote their time to their professional healthcare role.

Friendly Societies were originally found all across Australia but are now strongest in regional and rural areas where some of the Societies have been making meaningful contributions to their communities for over 100 years.

With limitations on their growth within the community pharmacy sector, several Friendly Societies have used their surpluses over time to build a significant role in the health of their community, including medical services, aged care, mobility and optical services.

With this long history of operating as social enterprises, Friendly Societies are proud to be the longest, continuous operators of community pharmacy in Australia.

Friendly Society Pharmacies currently represent approximately 2% of registered pharmacies in Australia. They are the quiet achievers of healthcare.

READ MORE: Click here for an extract about Friendly Society Dispensaries from the book Mutual Aid or Welfare State: Australia’s Friendly Societies