Minister for Health and Aged Care - press conference - 19 February 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's press conference on cheaper medicines; pharmacist prescribing; safeguard mechanisms.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MINSTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE MARK BUTLER: Thank you for coming out this morning. Can I particularly thank Dominic from Terry White Henley Beach, for hosting us today and having a talk about what's happening right now in pharmacy. This is a really good opportunity to remind Australians that from tomorrow, adults who have gone at least six months since their last infection with COVID, or their last vaccine dose, can now get an additional dose of COVID vaccines to top up their protection. Dom tells me his books are full for tomorrow. And I imagine that's the case in 1000s of community pharmacies across the country. They've been playing such a critical role in getting Australians vaccinated in this once in a century pandemic. I'm here today though, to talk about cheap medicines with Dom and with Australians generally. We went to the last election promising cheaper medicines for millions of Australians, and we've delivered that promise. In just the first month of our cheaper medicines plan, the price of more than 1.6 million scripts was slashed by up to 30%, delivering more than $18 million into the pockets of hardworking Australian patients. Australians have been paying the price for ten years of cuts and neglect of Medicare for far too long now. This targeted, responsible cost of living relief will not only be great for the hip pocket of millions of Australians, it is also going to be terrific for their health. The ABS and pharmacists across the country tell us that almost a million Australians every single year, either defer or entirely go without a medicine that their doctor has prescribed as important for their health. This is just not good enough. And our cheaper medicines policy is going to change the lives of millions of Australians. It's all part of our plan to make Medicare stronger. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: So do you back the New South Wales Government move to allow pharmacists to prescribe medications such as for urinary tract infections?


BUTLER: I've said for some time now, and this was a recommendation from the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce in its broadest sense, that all Australia's health care professionals should be working to the top of their scope of practice. That is using the full extent of their skills and training and experience. And that's simply just not the case. In Australia, at the time of skyrocketing demand for quality health care and real constraints in the health workforce, it doesn't make sense not to have everyone working to the full range of their skills. Now, we have received a letter over the last couple of days from New South Wales Premier directly to the Prime Minister but copied to me indicating that the New South Wales Government wants to move down the path of allowing pharmacists to prescribe the pill and antibiotics for urinary tract infections in New South Wales. We haven't yet had the opportunity to respond to this, it is obviously a state-based measure similar to a measure that's already been in place for some time in Queensland.


We look forward to continuing to discuss with all states any opportunity to expand the work that's been delivered by our hardworking healthcare professionals, including pharmacists. Pharmacists every single day are not just dispensing medicines, they're giving health advice to members of their community. And over the last few years, the community has been reminded that in many cases, the pharmacy was the most accessible health care professional, right through the worst phases of this pandemic. So I’m meeting with my Health Minister colleagues later this week in Brisbane for a couple of days. I'm sure we’ll have the opportunity to discuss this New South Wales proposal in greater detail.


JOURNALIST: I appreciate what you just said that the federal government hasn’t considered a proposal just yet, but do you think it would be better to be rolled out as a national scheme, rather than New South Wales or other states and territories?


BUTLER: The decision to give pharmacists more legal rights around prescribing medicines is a decision at the state level. They are governed by state laws, but I know that Health Ministers, as a group, want to try to bring together and have national consistency as far as possible around health care professional scope of practice. So as I said, later this week, we'll be having a meeting as Health Ministers. This is a constant topic of discussion for all of us because we know how constrained the health workforce is right now at a time of skyrocketing demand. And we all agree that people should not be constrained by the old historical turf wars and artificial limits on the full use of their skills, training and experience.


JOURNALIST: Can you appreciate that a plan like that will potentially take pressure off GPs?


BUTLER: Of course it's going to take work off GPs if pharmacists are able to prescribe these medicines under limited circumstances. We obviously have to step through all of these proposals carefully. As I say, our overarching approach to this is to have people working to the limits of their skills, training and experience, and not lower than that. But we also have to make sure that we introduce these new measures in line with good clinical practice. So we'll have a discussion about that later this week.


JOURNALIST: Greens leader Adam Bandt has indicated that the party is willing to negotiate with the government on its safeguard mechanism legislation. Will you meet them halfway?


BUTLER: I won't personally, but I know Climate and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has been keen to meet with all other Members of Parliament to get this really once in a generation reform through the parliament. Let's be clear, the climate wars have gone on for far too long in this country. They've been holding emissions up and keeping jobs down. That's why business across the across the board, every business group, has said that they want to see this safeguards mechanism passed. So it's not just a question for the Greens. It's particularly a question for the alternative Prime Minister of the country, Peter Dutton. Does he want to see more of the last 10 years: the inertia, the conflict, the division, the lack of investment? Or does he want to see business be able to invest in the opportunities of the clean energy revolution and bring our emissions down? Our plan will reduce emissions by about 200 million tonnes, if the Parliament passes it. That's equivalent to taking two thirds of all Australia's cars off the road over the course of this decade. It's good for the climate. But importantly, it's also good for the economy. So not just the Greens who should get behind it, as so many other climate groups have, the Liberal and National parties - the alternative government - who have got to put these climate wars behind us.


JOURNALIST: The Greens have called on the Government to explain why we should open any new coal and gas projects when they’re major contributors to emissions. What’s Labor’s answer to that?


BUTLER: Labor's answer is to put in place regulations across Australia's biggest emitters. That's what the safeguards mechanism does: it will drive emissions down while also giving business certainty to invest in the jobs of the future.


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