You will find a pharmacy on almost every city block in Melbourne, as well as at least two in your local suburb. In Australia, the term ‘Chemist” is usually used in conversation and advertising to refer to a pharmacy selling both over-the-counter health products as well as restricted medicines.
Unlike other countries, there is no standard symbol to help you identify a pharmacy. Look for the words “Pharmacy” or “Chemist.” They are almost always large stores that very clearly display their wares, making identifying them easy.
Many medicines in Australia can be prescribed only by a doctor via an official prescription (locally called a “script”), although the rigidity of this is easing and many previously prescription-only drugs are now available over-the-counter. The most recent change to over-the-counter medications freely sold has been those containing pseudoephedrine (the Cold-and-Flu tablets that are a relative of amphetamines). You can still get them, but you need to ask specifically for them and be prepared to be eyed closely by the assistant to determine if you are a profiteering drug manufacturer, or just suffering from the flu.
To get medicines prescribed by a doctor, simply take your prescription to any chemist. Your prescription may be filled immediately (if it’s available off the shelf), or you may be asked to wait or come back later.
Pharmacists in Australia are usually extremely knowledgeable. Unless you have a severe illness, you can usually save yourself a fair bit of time, effort and expense by speaking with a Chemist instead of visiting a doctor. It is not necessary to go to a particular chain of pharmacies, as all pharmacists are equally well trained. Look for the staff wearing a white coat or tunic, as anyone else is a shop assistant and not qualified to advise you.
Most pharmacies in Melbourne are open 7 days a week, from 9am – 9pm. There are some that stay open until midnight.
City Central Pharmacies
128-132 Elizabeth St, CBD (and many other locations)
03 9663 6704
253 Flinders Ln, CBD
03 9650 2200
24 Hour Pharmacies
Mulqueeny Midnight Pharmacy
416-418 High St, Prahran
03 9510 3977
Corner of Sydney Rd and Brunswick Rd, Brunswick
03 9510 3977
Leonard Long Pharmacy
Corner of Williams Rd and High St, Prahran
If you need medical care outside of these hours, you are best advised to go to Emergency Room of the Alfred Hospital (for more information, see the Hospital section).
Medicare – via the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) – subsidises the cost of around 1,700 ‘necessary and life-saving’ medicines. In fact, most medicines available on prescription are subsidised under the PBS, so just by having a prescription filled you receive the benefit of the subsidy.
PBS medicines are available to all Australian residents and to visitors from countries with which Australia has a reciprocal health care agreement. Proof of residence or nationality may be required. If you’re eligible, you pay a maximum of $28.60 for each PBS medicine; if you qualify for concessions, you pay only $4.60 (concessions are for the very young, the elderly or those on low incomes).
Foreign Medicines and Prescriptions
The brand names for the same drugs and medicines vary considerably from country to country. If you regularly take medication overseas, you should ask your doctor for the generic name. If you want to match medication prescribed overseas in Australia, you need a current prescription with the chemical name, the dosage, the manufacturer’s name and the medication’s trade name. This must be endorsed by an Australian-registered doctor before you can take it to an Australian chemist. Most foreign medicines have an equivalent in Australia, although particular brands may be difficult or impossible to obtain.
If you’re visiting Australia temporarily, or have just moved from overseas, you are allowed to bring a maximum of four weeks’ prescription medicines with you. Chemists will not usually accept foreign prescriptions, and will require you to take a foreign prescription to a registered doctor to have them write you a new one. However, as each pharmacy acts relatively independently, there can be exceptions (especially in an emergency situation).