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Interview on news reports about medicines listings on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Leon Byner on 5AA where he talks about news reports about medicines listings on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Minister, thanks for joining us. You would be aware that News Limited did some work and they are alleging that there are lots of drugs that have been approved for use but are not on the PBS.

They cite the fact that you had said, and you’d said it a few times, that once these drugs are approved, they’d go straight on.

What’s the story?


The story was wrong.

And I’m very happy to read to you the advice from the Department from a week ago, and our commitment is to list all the medicines that the independent medical advisors list, and obviously which the companies then have to accept the terms by law before the government can list them.

And the advice from the Department is that the schedule of Pharmaceutical Benefits, that’s the PBS, will shortly be updated to reflect a number of additional medicines that we listed on 1 November.

As of 14 October, there are no other positive PBAC recommendations for which the sponsors have indicated that they wish to proceed and which have met and completed all the listing requirements.

So, in other words, the answer is if the experts recommend them, and obviously, the companies, by law, have to accept the recommendations, then we’ll list them.

On the weekend, it took nine days, instead of the 320 that it took under Labor, it took nine days from a final letter in relation to cystic fibrosis before we were able to provide two magnificent new medicines, Symdeko and Orkambi, for children as young as two in the case of Orkambi and for 12 and above in the case of Symdeko.

And these will add up to 20 years of life expectancy and would have cost $250,000 and done in nine days.


When I see information that suggests that we are short of a number of drugs, you’d be aware of this, we are being told by pharmacists and doctors that there is a shortage of many drugs at the moment.

Why is that?


So, what’s happened is that around the world, some medicines will be supplied on time or there may be a breakdown in a manufacturing facility somewhere in the United States or elsewhere around the world.

So that’s why we brought in new legislation to provide early warnings of any looming shortages, and we’ve already done that.

We passed that and that is making a big difference to the supply and any notifications so as we could have early warning.

So, sometimes, A) you’ll have a manufacturer overseas and for whatever reason, a break in their supply chain, a breakdown in the manufacturing, they’re likely to face a shortage.

Now, for the first time ever by law, they have to provide that notification to the Government so as we can provide it to the public and share that well in advance if they’re aware that there’s likely to be a shortage.


So, it’s not true that we’re not being supplied because we don’t pay enough for them?


No. In terms of the medicines, it’s always up to the company whether or not they do.

But as it was said yesterday by the head of Cystic Fibrosis Australia, Nettie Burke, that we are the envy of the world, I think was her exact phrase; that the other countries had been in contact with her, she said, after it was announced that we were listing Symdeko and Orkambi for two to five year olds.

And they were exceptionally jealous, her Cystic Fibrosis’ fraternal partners around the world and the reason is because we actually drive them through.

And this is of course completely unlike in 2011, where the then government ran out of money and said in the budget that due to fiscal circumstances, the government of the day will defer the listing of some new medicines until fiscal circumstances permit.

In other words, they stopped listing medicines for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.

So at the very time we’re listing quarter of a million dollar per person, per year medicines for lung conditions, they stopped those.

They stopped for endometriosis and IVF, for schizophrenia, for prostate conditions. So the- that’s an extraordinary thing.

Whereas, probably the strongest example of what we’re doing as a government in terms of managing the economy is delivering these new medicines, 2200 new or amended medicines, and just - virtually every day, I meet somebody who will talk about themselves, their family, having access to medicines for the first time.

Little Zavier, who is five years old, who’s likely to benefit from Orkambi and have his life expectancy and quality of life changed.

It’s the single thing that the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Finance Minister perhaps talk about most with regards to why we have a strong budget so as we never face what happened in 2011.


Minister, thank you for joining us.


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