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Thursday, 16 February 2012
Page: 1604

Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (11:18): I also rise to support the National Health Amendment (Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement Initiatives) Bill 2011. I think that the Australian public, almost to a person, supports our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the PBS, and the subsidisation of certain medicines for those who really need them but may not be able to afford them. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is one of the cornerstones of our modern, world-class health system—a system that now has a bright future due to the reforms of this Labor government.

We saw last year an unprecedented alignment of the states and the Commonwealth with the National Health Reform Agreement, with some $20 billion in additional Commonwealth funding committed over this decade to cut elective surgery waiting times and fund growth in the health and hospital budgets across our nation. One of the central elements to modern healthcare delivery in this country is the maximisation of the healthcare outcomes the public receive for the tax dollars that fund the health system. With all players coming to the table and reaching an agreement, as we saw under the leadership of the Prime Minister last year, we are minimising waste and maximising the health benefits that come from the amount of taxation revenue that is channelled into the health system that Australians love and rely on so much.

Health is clearly an area of public policy where the public sees best management, minimal waste and best outcomes for the Australian public. Wringing out every healthcare service and outcome possible for the money that is put into the system is an ongoing theme of this government through negotiations with the states in the running of hospitals and negotiations with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia in the development of successive community pharmacy agreements for the delivery of the PBS.

The Community Pharmacy Agreement is central to the operation of the PBS. It is a fundamental part of the operation of the PBS and the dispensing of medicines across Australia at a reasonable cost to the public as a whole. Negotiations between parties to the Community Pharmacy Agreement always strive to achieve the best outcomes for those with health issues at the most affordable cost to the Australian taxpayer. It is very pleasing and reassuring to see that the agreement is not just a deal reached between a funding body and those who implement a part of it. It is not just between the government or the Department of Health and Ageing and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. This Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement was also open, in a sense, to the public through the Consumers Health Forum. The department conducted a broad public consultation process in early 2011 about the initiatives, aided by Medicare Australia and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. This is nothing new. There was excellent consultation carried out in the development of the Community Pharmacy Agreement as a whole. The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has an account of the initial scepticism of the Consumers Health Forum toward the fifth agreement turning to uncompromised praise. According to the Pharmacy Guild of Australia website, in May 2010 the Consumers Health Forum wrote:

CHF welcomes the final version of the Fifth CPA. For the first time in the history of Community Pharmacy Agreements, the views of consumers were specifically sought, and some of their concerns appear to have been taken into account in the final version of the Agreement. The Patient Service Charter is particularly welcome.

This feedback was to the process up to the point of the signing of the agreement in the early part of 2010.

As I have said, community input was also sought in the development of the programs which make up this bill. They were developed, at least in part, subsequent to the signing of the agreement and were commented on by the public in their development toward this legislation and a better functioning system and superior health outcomes.

It is in pursuit of superior outcomes—the best health outcomes for those who rely on prescription pharmaceuticals—that the government has introduced the bill before us. This bill will improve the continued supply of medicines to those who need them, improve the treatment people receive by use of the medicines in certain situations where gaining access to a GP to request a new prescription puts the continuance of supply and treatment at risk. The changes are about better access to medicines, better ongoing treatment for conditions and, consequently, better patient health outcomes. The beneficiaries of these changes are those in our communities with chronic conditions requiring ongoing treatment and residents of nursing homes.

The situations in which these changes will apply are not broad. There are basically two situations, and the changes are delivered by two programs. The Continued Dispensing of PBS Medicines in Defined Circumstances program will assist those with ongoing, chronic conditions and an ongoing need for prescription medicines who have already had a prescription, where the issuing of yet another prescription cannot be arranged but would have been a formality. Only people being issued with oral hormonal contraceptives for systemic use and lipid-modifying agents used in the treatment of high cholesterol will be covered by the program. Additional pharmaceuticals will be considered for inclusion within the program in two years time.

The second situation and the second program are to do with the needs of residents of nursing homes. The Supply and PBS Claiming from a Medication Chart in Residential Aged Care Facilities program will have the ongoing administration of medicines managed through the resident's, or patient's, medical chart, more akin to the administration of prescribed medicines within a hospital setting. The course of treatment is set by the doctor and implemented by other staff. The treatment is ongoing until staff are told otherwise.

Again, the changes are about enabling better access to medicines when they are needed, better adherence to the required administration of those medicines and a superior benefit from the treatment that patients require. These implementation dates were agreed to by the government and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia as a part of the fifth agreement negotiations and have been publicly announced. Both initiatives are scheduled to commence on 1 July 2012. I commend the bill to the House.