Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee decisions now appear on PBS website.

Download WordDownload Word



This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.


It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.


For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.





Friday 1 August 2003

Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee decisions now appear on PBS website


MARK COLVIN: Australia's medication gatekeeper, the Pharmaceutical Bene fits Advisory Committee gave the public access to the reasons for its decisions for the first time. 


It was a much-trumpeted decision - the committee's chairman last week called it a major breakthrough. But, as we'll hear a little later, some are already denouncing it as more of a damp squib. 


The committee promised that every decision would be described on the website. But today, those who navigated their way to that site, in itself not an easy task, found generalised reasons laid out in no more than one or two sentences.  


The website access had been long-awaited: some patients argue that the system denies them life-saving medication, drug companies worry about commercial confidentiality and other critics believe that the committee's been too lax in subsidising things like anti-smoking cures and controversial anti-arthritis medications. 


Tanya Nolan begins our coverage with this report on the expectations for the new transparency. 


TANYA NOLAN: You may now know a bit more about the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme with the launch this week of the Federal Government's television advertising campaign. 


ADVERTISEMENT: It's a great scheme, which is run by the Commonwealth Government to subsidise the cost of PBS prescription medicines. 


TANYA NOLAN: Now you can learn even more about how it's decided. From August the first, if you log onto the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee website you can expect to see not only the reasons why certain drugs are recommended for government subsidisation, but also why some have been knocked back. 


It may not sound that groundbreaking, but make no mistake, it comes after years of debate, hand-wringing and disagreement, and many credit the current chair of the PBAC, Lloyd Sansom. 


LLOYD SANSOM: I would class it as a major breakthrough and as I've said… continually say to people, this is the start of the process. Once you start releasing information, the desire from people to be provided with further information simply increases. But again, I think there are some issues we need to discuss further with the industry, the issues around commercial competence and so on. 


TANYA NOLAN: Professor Sansom says the new policy is not yet at the stage he would like. He wants Australia to rival the UK, which publishes its decisions, including rejections, in far more detail than will be initially provided by the PBAC. 


But Federal Health Minister Senator Kay Patterson says the pharmaceutical industry has been crucial in getting the initiative off the ground. 


KAY PATTERSON: I have a very good relationship with them, I talk to them on a regular basis. Of course, we don't always agree on every issue, but they're also understanding that you can't have a PBS growing at the rate of 20 per cent per year, we have to get some sort of predictable growth into it. 


We've been talking about looking, predicting ahead, because we know from America what medications are going to be coming along, and whether we can actually see which ones are going off patent and whether we can get some predictability. 


TANYA NOLAN: Issues of commercial-in-confidence have been a major impediment to the publication of rejection decisions, and may still prove a difficulty. But at this stage all parties are talking up their new and improved relationship. 


Professor David Henry was a member of the PBAC between 1992 and 2001. He sees this new policy as a very significant one, not least for the committee itself, which has been operating under the burden of secrecy for many years. 


DAVID HENRY: The media has been used extensively in my experience over the years to criticise the committee. Up until now, the committee has not been able to justify its decisions, in particular its rejections, and I'm hoping this greater openness will allow the committee to defend themselves properly against some quite unfair criticisms. 


MARK COLVIN: Former PBAC member Professor David Henry, ending Tanya Nolan's report.