Minister Butler doorstop in Canberra - 6 September 2023

Read Minister Butler's doorstop in Canberra on cost-of-living relief for millions of Australians with 60-day prescriptions; Covid inquiry.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thanks for coming out this morning. I'm delighted to be here at the Consumers Health Forum, particularly with Angela, a member of the Consumers Health Forum to talk about the benefit for 6 million Australians of 60 days scripts. The Consumers Health Forum is the peak body for patient and consumer groups across the health system and plays an incredibly important role advocating the interests of patients and sometimes it's forgotten in the hurly-burly of debate about health policy just how focused this policy debate should always be on the interests of patients.  

Providers are important. But ultimately, health policy is about protecting the interests of people who use our health system, that is patients. And that's certainly been the laser like focus of our Government as we consider advice from the medicines experts, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, to allow patients to ask their doctor for 60 days – or their advice said even 90 days – scripts for common medicines for ongoing health conditions. Our focus was very much on the benefits that that would bring to patients and they're pretty obvious. Most obviously, is the hip pocket benefit effectively two scripts for the price of one, halves the cost of very common medicines, but it's also good for their health.  

Angela and I were just talking about the fact that so many Australians go without their medicines, medicines that their doctors have said is important for their health because of other cost of living pressures. The Bureau of Statistics said that as many as 800,000 Australians go without a medicine prescribed by their doctor, because of other cost of living pressures, because they simply can't afford it. Now, sometimes we hear stories, for example of parents very understandably going into their pharmacists to fill a script for their child but going without a medicine that the doctor has said is important for them as an adult. We hear other stories, where someone is on multiple medicines of them taking in a number of scripts to a pharmacist, and asking for advice about which script they can go without because they simply can't afford all of the medicines that are being prescribed. The hip pocket benefit is obviously good, at a time of a global cost of living shock that we know is bearing down on all households in Australia. But it's also good for their health, it means they're much more likely to be able to fill all of the scripts their doctor has prescribed for them.  

We also know from overseas evidence – and most countries to which we compare ourselves have already done this – that longer scripts improve medication compliance. That's pretty obvious. We know that that time you're most likely to go off your medicine is when your script runs out. So, if you have longer scripts, you're less likely to go off your medication. Medication compliance has improved overseas by as much as 20 per cent.  

This is really good for individual health but it's also good for the health system, because we know that it will free up millions and millions of GP consults that are desperately needed out there at a time where demand is exceeding supply for general practice consults.  

It’s good for the hip pocket, good for individual health, and very good for the health system. That's why this measure has been so strongly supported, not just by doctors groups, but also most importantly by patient and consumers group, most obviously the Consumers Health Forum. I want to thank Liz Deveny and the Consumers Health Forum, as well as all of the other patient groups, for their steadfast advocacy in the face of a pretty powerful lobbying campaign by a pretty powerful lobbying group for their advocacy for the interests of the people they represent. I might ask Angela to say a few words about the impact of 60 days scripts on her. 

ANGELA BROWN, PATIENT: The impact of 60-day scripts on me will be absolutely enormous as it will be for most consumers who have multiple chronic conditions, families who have children who may have a chronic condition, pensioners, everybody, and also for remote and regional people. I’ve lived in a regional centre and it's really difficult to keep coming into the doctor, it's hard to get a doctor's appointment. It's also really difficult to keep traveling, you know, you might travel 100 to 200 kilometres round trip, just to get a medication. This will actually save a lot of money. It'll ease a lot of the financial burden for consumers and as the Minister said, help with compliance and taking medications. 

JOURNALIST: Minister, were you disappointed with the pharmacist white coats sort of interrupting questions in Parliament this week?

BUTLER: I was pretty shocked at the behaviour of some of the pharmacists who were in the gallery. To be in the gallery of our national Parliament is something we should all accept as a real privilege: to be in a place where our democracy really is centred. Many other people across the world would love to see a parliament where they can elect their members and frankly, deselect their members as well. So, as the Speaker made clear, it's an expectation for people in the gallery to be there as observers, not participants. I'd just endorse what the Speaker has said about that.

The most shocking thing about what happened the other day with, with a couple of hundreds of people in the gallery jeering, making very rude gestures, pointing at particular MPs and making gestures as well, not just at me, but MPs on the crossbench and others, the most shocking thing was the behaviour of the Opposition. When, for example, when there were protests against the former Government, the Coalition Government back in 2016, as an Opposition, we steadfastly supported the Government and steadfastly supported the need for discipline in the chamber. What we saw instead this week by the Coalition, was firstly the Deputy Leader go out to a rally and effectively encouraged people to come in and disrupt Question Time. And then when they did so, you know, the Opposition benches tried to sort of rev up, if you like, the crowd in the gallery. I think that was just a shockingly irresponsible display by many on the Coalition side. 

JOURNALIST: Have you sought clarification from the Pharmacy Guild about whether they helped organise it or who indeed did help organise? 

BUTLER: I noticed that the Pharmacy Guild President put out a statement after dissociating the Guild from the from the protests that happen outside the Parliament. Protests outside the Parliament are completely fine, that's a vibrant part of our democracy, but particularly the protest in the in the gallery during Question Time and I take that at face value. 

JOURNALIST: Just on another health-related matter, Minister, is it true that the government will soon be announcing an inquiry into the COVID pandemic? 

BUTLER: I'm not here to announce a possible future announcement. But I can say that the Prime Minister and I and other ministers have made very clear that we intend to hold a deep inquiry into the management of COVID over the last few years. It would be extraordinary for government to take any other position and we'll announce the terms of that inquiry in due course. Thanks.

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