Television interview with Minister Butler and Karl Stefanovic, Today Show - 27 April 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Karl Stefanovic and Sarah Abo on cheaper medicines.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Health Minister Mark Butler joins us from Adelaide. Appreciate your time today. Actually, Trent Twomey went on later that day and he was so emotional about the experience he started crying about the pressure that pharmacists are under. How do you feel about all of that? 

MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: This is an important measure for 6 million patients, patients who live with chronic disease and are often on the same medicine, not only for years, but in some cases for decades. They are required to go to a GP at least twice a year and go to a pharmacy 12 times a year, paying money every time they do that. For five years now the independent authority, the experts who run our medicines system have said that that is ridiculous and people should only go to a pharmacy once every two months and get two months supply of medicines. This is what happens in the UK and New Zealand and Canada and Europe and most of the US. We decided to accept that advice. The former Government didn't. It would have saved patients hundreds of millions of dollars. We decided to accept the advice and we’re convinced it is the right thing to do, not only the cost-of-living for those six million Australians but for their health as well. Because we know from overseas evidence that more supply of medicines, 60 days instead supply instead of 30, increases medication compliance by as much as 20 per cent as well. It is good for health, it’s good for hip pockets, it’s the right thing to do for Australian patients. 

SARAH ABO, HOST: With respect, Minister, you are not the one in the pharmacy dispensing the medication that they say isn't there. If someone walks into the pharmacy asking them for medication for 60 days and then somebody walks in after asking for the same one and and it is not there, they are in the lurch. Where does it leave them? 

BUTLER: It’s not going to work like that Sarah. We’re phasing this in over this year and next year. You just have to think about this for a few minutes, the number of tablets for cholesterol or for heart disease or for blood pressure that is dispensed between now and Christmas won't change one bit as a result of this. I mean yes, we’re going to have to change some of the delivery arrangements to reflect this new system. But it is not going to impact the supply or any shortages of medicines one bit. That is why doctors groups support this, the independent authorities that are charged by law with overseeing this system, have recommended this. The medications industry itself that makes and supplies these tablets, these medicines, they support it. Patient groups support it. I accept that there is going to be an impact on pharmacy, which is why I have assured them and assured the community that every single dollar the Government saves from this measure - and it will be over $1.2 billion over the next four years - will be reinvested into pharmacy programs. Getting pharmacists out from behind the counter, ensuring that they don't have to spend as much time simply processing repeat scripts and delivering services, actually using their substantial skills and training as health professionals. 

STEFANOVIC: Are the pharmacists making it up then? The level of passion and the way that they are articulated their argument yesterday and showed us that the shelves are bare. 

ABO: They are saying there are shortages? 

BUTLER: There are shortages, I have said, of about 7 of 325 medicines. There are shortages of other brands where the authorities say that they are alternative brands, for example, of blood pressure medication that patients can take. Right across the world there are some shortages of medicines that are really an overhang from COVID and the impact on supply lines that I know your viewers are all too familiar with. The important thing to say is that this measure will not change the number of tablets for these diseases that are dispensed over a period of time. These shortages, where they exist across the world, and there are some medicines where there is a shortage, will not be impacted one way or the other. That’s why you have no complaint from the medicines industry, from patient groups, from doctors groups or from the authorities that are charged by law with overseeing this. 

STEFANOVIC: It seems like it is all out war between you and the pharmacists so we’ll see how it all unfolds. What is not war is what is happening behind you in Adelaide. Radelaide on show! Appreciate you being with us, Minister. 

BUTLER: Thank you Karl and Sarah. 


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