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Thursday, 2 December 1971
Page: 4125

Dr Everingham asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:

(1)   Has his attention been drawn to a recent article in the 'Medical Journal of Australia' by Tasmania's. Director of Hospital and Medical Services calling for a cost/benefit analysis of the use of prescribed drugs, intensive care for newborn infants with lung disorders, the use of skilled radiographers for simple routine X-rays and the use of nursing homes for persons whose need is rather hostel or home care services. (2) In view of the Commonwealth's major financial committment to universities, hospitals, nursing homes and doctors, will he confer with the States on this suggestion and the call of Dr I. S. Collins for improved medical training in the relevant fields of pharmacology and therapeutics as referred to in the Minister's news release of 6th September 19.71.

Dr Forbes - The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1)   I have seen the article referred to.

(2)   Regular avenues exist for discussion between the Commonwealth and the States on matters of the kind. No doubt, opportunities will be taken, where appropriate, to confer on the particular matters mentioned.

Pharmaceutical Benefits: Anti-depressant Prescriptions (Question No. 4295)

Mr Grassby asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for Health, upon notice:

(1)   Is it a fact that (a) in 1966-67 there were 74,000 anti-depressant prescriptions covered by pharmaceutical benefits at a cost of $324 . 000 representing 0.31 per cent of total prescriptions and (b) there has been a rise in number and cost every year since and until 1970-71 where there were 1,750,000 such prescriptions costing nearly 5.5 million dollars and representing 3.48 per cent of total prescriptions.

(2)   If so, will the Minister (a) examine the claim that this is the highest per capita expenditure on anti-depressants in the western world and (b) order ah inquiry into the reasons for the Australian population becoming' 300 per cent more addicted to depressionsince 1966-67, and to methods of combating this depression.

Dr Forbes - The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1)   (a) and (b) Yes.

(2)   (a) The actual expenditure on antidepressant drugs overseas is not known. However, for the year ended 31st March 1971, it is estimated that in England 138 anti-depressant prescriptions per thousand head of population were provided under the British National Health Service. In Australia, during the same period, and for the same group of pharmaceuticals, 110 prescriptions per 1000 head of population were supplied under the. Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Although prescribing details for other countries are not available, ' it is known that a general marked increase in the usage of antidepressant drugs has been experienced throughout the western world.

(b)   In Australia, the most significant increase in antidepressant pharmaceutical benefit prescriptions was recorded in 1970-71. This followed he removal in August 1970 of the restrictions on prescribing of these drugs as . benefits. However, it does not follow that the incidence of depression has risen proportionately to the increase in prescribing of anti-depressant benefit prescriptions because these drugs may have been obtained on private prescription prior to them becoming available as general pharmaceutical benefits. The usage of drugs available as pharmaceutical benefits and implications to be drawn from changes in the pattern of prescribing are under continuous surveillance. While it is not intended at this stage to conduct a special inquiry into the causes arid management of depression, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory- Committee will continue' to periodically review theusage of anti-depressant drugs listed as benefits.

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