Press Conference regarding the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement

Transcript of Minister for Health, Susan Ley's press conference regarding the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement.

Page last updated: 27 April 2015

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26 April 2015

Subject: Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement, Australian Doctor allegedly joining ISIL.

Reporter: Should painkillers like panadol, antacids and aspirins be taken off the PBS?

Sussan Ley: There's a really strong argument why under the supervision of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee we look to taking over the counter medications off the PBS and in the process get a better deal for consumers.

Reporter: And is that what the Government is looking at doing at this stage.

Sussan Ley: Well for the first time I have opened up negotiations around the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement to the whole supply chain. That includes consumers, it includes wholesalers, it includes pharmacists and it includes doctors. So we're talking across the supply chain, about how we can access affordable medicines as often as we need to, under a quality use of medicines banner, but making sure that patients get the best deal they can. I don't like it when I hear about people unable to afford their medications, and I know that paying too much for over the counter medicines such as paracetamol is not working ultimately for consumers, and it's certainly not working for the Government's budget.

Reporter: Is there evidence of people rorting the system, I guess, stock-piling prescriptions for pain killers in order to reach that PBS safety net quicker?

Sussan Ley: After you get to the safety net, as a concessional patient, your scripts are free. We want to make sure that we have a quality use of medicines policy and pharmacists are very much part of that. This is not about people rorting the system, this is about cost to Government, affordability to consumers and the best deal across the medicines supply change.

Reporter: It is I guess a side-effect of this, it is going to make it harder for patients to reach that PBS safety net.

Sussan Ley: Ultimately I want a better deal for consumers. I want consumers to be able to have access to affordable medicines at the cheapest possible rate. But there are some perverse disincentives and some perverse incentives built into the system at the moment. Now, the Government is paying a lot of money for people to access panadol and other over the counter medications at their chemist, on the script. That's not necessarily sustainable, and it's not necessarily in the interests of patients overall. So let's make sure we get the best deal for consumers, we look after our very viable pharmacy sector, and we make sure that the national budget is sustainable as well.

Reporter: Is this a budget saving measure rather than a health inspired measure?

Sussan Ley: The reports today pick up on some of the issues that are on the table in the context of the pharmacy agreement that I am now negotiating. So there are lots of different measures that are being discussed and this is one of them. But I certainly don't want to see over the counter medications on script at excessive cost to the Government budget when this is not necessary. What I do want to see is a sustainable supply and cost of medicines to consumers, particularly to people who can't afford to pay top dollar for medicines.

Reporter: Are you confident this would have no negative health side-effects?

Sussan Ley: I am confident that this is in the interests of consumers, it's in the interests of our budget, and it's in the interests of the whole of the medicine supply chain. Remember that everyday the Government is receiving more and more requests for expensive new generation cancer drugs and others. And we want to be able to list those. We want people who have those serious conditions to be able to access medications on the PBS but it does have to be paid for, and in paying for it we have to look at over the counter medications, such as paracetamol, that are being accessed on script at high cost to Government. We are putting together a package that will work for consumers and that's why I've got consumers at the table. They're part of this process. They're telling us what they need to see, and I can assure you they are focused on affordability.

Reporter: Is this something the Pharmacy Guild supports?

Sussan Ley: The Pharmacy Guild is part of the constructive discussions that we're having at the moment and as I said this is one of several measures that is being discussed and we are in a very positive frame of mind as we go to those final negotiations with, I hope, a view to arriving at a really strong sixth agreement that will start on the first of July.

Reporter: Okay. Is is- The number that's been put on this this morning is that this will save a billion dollars. Is that figure correct?

Sussan Ley: I'm not coming up with numbers. This is a measure that's on the table, that's being discussed. The whole agreement is obviously worth a lot more than a billion dollars. When we arrive at a conclusion that we're all happy with, then the cost will be very much open to public scrutiny and public transparency.

Reporter: It is agreed that you have been asked to find three billion dollars in savings though.

Sussan Ley: The budget process, which includes our expenditure review committee process, new policy proposals, is on-going. And yes there are times when we have to find savings and there are times when we sign off on new spendings. So I'm not going to pull out any particular figures as we lead up to this May budget. All will be revealed soon.

Reporter: Are you planning on reducing the price of all PBS medicines by up to a dollar a script? Or giving pharmacists the option?

Sussan Ley: Discounting what consumers may pay… I'll just start that bit again; discounting the co-payment, or allowing pharmacy to discount what patients pay as a contribution to their medication is one of the measures being discussed, and there's no doubt that it would make medicines more affordable for consumers. And that's one of the key ingredients that I want to see come out of this pharmacy agreement; that medicines are maintained at an affordability that people can afford.

Reporter: But that's certainly something you're positively moving towards?

Sussan Ley: Well the discounted co-payment measure, the over-the-counter removal of drugs from chemists, and a lot of other things besides are being discussed in this community pharmacy agreement. And we will I hope and I expect land in a very good place for everyone who has an interest across the medicine supply chain.

Reporter: And just on codeine - should codeine medicines like Nurofen Plus and Panadeine - should they be made prescription only medicines?

Sussan Ley: I've read reports that have advocated for that this morning. I as Health Minister should not and do not have the control over this process. These are submissions that will be made to the pharmaceutical benefits advisory committee and they will give their opinion, and in due course we will make the necessary assessments if we need to.

Reporter: Is there a problem though with people that were addicted to these medicines having free access over the counter?

Sussan Ley: There's always a problem when there are addictions, and pharmacists are well qualified to advise, to assess, and to determine what somebody's requests for medicines are, and how appropriate those requests may be. But I'm certainly interested in any measures that can be put in place to stop pharmacy and doctor shopping, and some of the way that you have to actually produce identification to buy some of these drugs, and listings are made so that it can be seen how many you've purchased are all steps in the right direction.

Reporter: Is there a problem here though that you're potentially inconveniencing a lot of people who innocently and correctly use these medicines in forcing them to go to the doctor and get a prescription?

Sussan Ley: Well it's a decision that I know the relevant agencies, organisations, and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee will consider very carefully, because it is a balance. It's a balance between access to a painkiller that's convenient and necessary for many people in the course of their busy lives, and overuse and misuse. So we rely on our pharmacists who have the right qualifications and training, and as I said the right ability to make those assessments about the appropriate and quality use of the medicines that you get from their pharmacy. And remember you can't get those medications from anywhere else but a pharmacy. I'll watch this with interest and make sure that everyone who feels strongly about this issue has the ability to have their say.

Reporter: Can I just get one final question in just about these reports of an Australian doctor who's joined ISIL? As Health Minister is it concerning to see somebody from the health industry here in Australia go over and join ISIL in the Middle East?

Sussan Ley: Well our Government is taking steps to protect Australians both here and abroad. I understand that my colleague the Minister for Immigration is making some statements about this report of a doctor allegedly carrying out these practices, and I'll leave those comments to him.

ENDS

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