Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
National Medicines Week 1998

Download WordDownload Word






8 November 1998


Thank you Professor Smith, Dr Swan, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman.

I would like to thank you all for attending the official launch of the 1998 National Medicines Week.

I am delighted to be here today. This is my first official function as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Aged Care.

The wise use of medicines is important every day of the year, but this week is especially dedicated to reminding everyone about the importance of the quality use of medicines. For many of us, medicines are a vital and common part of our everyday lives. They can be life saving for serious illnesses.

Just recently, I myself have had a serious heart problem and I have to take some medication as a result. So I have personal experience and know how important it is to remember to take my medicine at the right time and in the right way. We have all come to rely greatly on medicines. They are an enormous benefit if used appropriately.

The overall theme of this year's National Medicines Week will be "Managing your Medicines". We are focussing on helping consumers to manage their prescription and over the counter medicines. This is particularly important for people who use a lot of medicines over a long period of time. The campaign slogan - "Ask and Be Wise with Medicines" has been a feature of the two previous National Medicines Weeks.

National Medicines Week 1998 is part of a three-year campaign, which has been funded under the Commonwealth Pharmaceutical Education Program. It is a major part of the activities sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Health and Rational Use of Medicines (PHARM) Committee. PHARM has a commitment to working in partnership with consumers, health care providers, the pharmaceutical industry and government to encourage quality use of medicines. This is a very effective and productive working relationship

We are fortunate in this country - Australians have access to timely, safe and affordable medicines. Australia has a well-established policy on quality use of medicines. The policy promotes the idea that members of the "medication team", made up of doctors, pharmacists, nurses and consumers, each have a role to play in ensuring that medicines are used wisely.

This year's National Medicines Week include a variety of activities:

There is a free national phone-in to help consumers with any questions they may have about their medicines. This year, for the first time, the phone-in will run for the whole week, from 9am to 6pm. It will be available to people from anywhere in Australia. Doctors and pharmacists from all areas including the pharmaceutical industry will be at the other end of the line to answer questions about medicines. The service has been a very popular component of National Medicines Week in the past two years.

During National Medicines Week, consumers will be encouraged to ask your pharmacist or doctor about having a medicines check. The community will be asked: "Are you using your medicines safely? Now is the time to ask." Posters have been distributed to doctors' surgeries, pharmacies, all key stakeholder groups and community based organisations to encourage people to ask widely about their medicines.

It is well known that people who use a lot of medicines often need help to ensure they are getting the best out of their medicines and to reduce any harmful effects. A regular "medicines check" once a year is beneficial for all of us.

A medicines check can be as simple as ensuring medicines are still in date and the labels are readable, to a full review of a patient's medication regimen. It should include all medicines - herbal and over the counter preparations as well as prescription medicines.

It is easy to forget that medicines we buy from the supermarket or pharmacy may interact with medicines prescribed by the doctor.

People will be encouraged to ask about having their medicines checked the next time they see their doctor or pharmacist.

These bags have been produced and provided to doctors, pharmacists and nurses to help with medicines checks. The bags are a reminder for all of us to have a medicine check. Health professionals are being encouraged to identify patients they think could benefit from a medicines check and provide them with this bag, which the patients can put their medicines in when they return to have them checked.

We often feel reluctant to ask questions about the medicines we are taking. Consumers tell us that this bag will help them feel more comfortable about raising their concerns with their doctor, pharmacist or nurse.

Grass roots activities are a great way of spreading the "Ask and be wise with Medicines", message, which is why this year grants of up to $500 have been provided to encourage local promotion of the week's messages. We received applications from everywhere, -senior citizens clubs, Aboriginal groups, hospital nurses and multicultural radio stations - just to name a few. More than 300 groups and individuals throughout Australia have received funding to conduct information seminars and other activities aimed at informing the community about the "Wise Use of Medicines".

I am delighted to say that one of the most innovative activities will be happening in my own area - the Northern Territory. An Aboriginal Health Council in Alice Springs has received a grant to create a painting to depict the importance of using medicines wisely. The painting will be displayed at community clinics in remote areas. It is excellent to see this sort of project designed to improve the wise use of medicines among indigenous people.

Many of the community groups who have received funding have put a lot of time and preparation into planning their activities, which I really would like to thank them for. Their keeness to spread the quality use of medicine message within their communities shows that people everywhere care about using medicines wisely.

Changing behaviour and attitudes is not easy. I think we all recognise that it will take many education campaigns, like National Medicines Week, to make significant changes for the better. This week, activities have again been a joint effort involving government, health professionals, the pharmaceutical industry and consumer organisations. National Medicines Week 1998 will provide an excellent opportunity for us all to consider how Australian's, but in particular older Australians and their carers, can be helped in this difficult area.

Older people are a special target of National Medicines week because they are generally high users of medicines - the latest national health survey shows that in any two week period, 90% of people over the age of 60 years use medicines.

1999 has been declared the International Year of Older Persons. It is important to recognise and promote the benefits of improved health and preventative measures for all age groups. Encouraging older people to participate in community health and fitness activities can have very positive outcomes for individuals and communities.

This special year will provide a focus for discussion on age-related issues that all Australians face, such as retirement incomes, urban planning, community attitudes and health services.

In preparation for the celebration of the International Year of Older Persons, consultations were conducted recently which highlighted a number of issues that were of concern to older people. One of the issues raised in the consultations was the way information and education on medicines is provided to older people. They expressed a desire to see plain English and easier to read directions on medicine labels. Older people frequently discussed their concern about misreading the instructions and over medicating. They recommended larger fonts and simple English for all prescription and over the counter medicines.

Older people also raised the issue of a lack of understanding of the side effects of medicines and the consequence of mixing medicines, both prescription and over the counter. Many of the issues mentioned will be addressed in National Medicines Week and I encourage all health stakeholders to think about how they can help address these concerns.

One of the key problems pharmacists and doctors are often faced with is poor compliance. Some recent research funded under the Pharmaceutical Education Program has shown that in patients identified as at high risk of medication misadventure by the pharmacists, " approximately two-thirds of these problems related to medication use". Common problems were poor technique in using medicines, poor understanding by patients of their drug therapy and anxiety about taking medicines; all of which contributed to low compliance.

These crucial findings are from one of over 150 projects funded as part of the Quality Use of Medicines Program. I am extremely pleased to announce that we have just announced another round of funding for these projects as well as grant money for some rese arch PhD and Masters scholarships. These funds are open to everyone and have been advertised in all national newspapers this weekend.

Medicine record cards are a good way of keeping track of what medications you are taking and for future reference for yourself and your doctor or pharmacist. The Department of Health and Aged Care have released a new brochure for NMW 1998 titled "Manage your Medicines - don't let them Manage You" which includes a section for you to write down your medicines taken and the relevant directions instructed by your doctor or pharmacist.

Education is seen as the primary tool in prompting people to ask about their medicines. The Commonwealth Government has recognised the need to promote better use of medicines, and has shown its commitment through initiatives such as the National Prescribing Service, which aims to improve prescribing practices by providing doctors with feedback and other relevant information

This month the National Prescribing Service is providing doctors with personalised prescription analysis for medicines commonly used in treatment of peptic ulcer, non-ulcer dyspepsia and gastro-oesophageal reflux.

The treatment of stomach and duodenal ulcers is a good example of the importance of a regular medicines check. We now know ulcers can be caused by bacteria, which can be knocked out with a short course of medicine. A lot of people are still taking long-term medication to relieve the symptoms of ulcers - these people should really be talking to their doctors about the newer treatment.

The quality use of medicines is one of a number of public health priorities contained in the Government's commitment to health promotion. These are goals we share with health professionals and the pharmaceutical industry, where we believe a concerted approach can help change public attitudes to health delivery. In particular the pharmaceutical industry is leading the way in some of these areas with innovative programs such as disease management to improve the appropriate prescribing and wise use of medicines.

In conclusion, it is important to stress that there is not always a medication to treat illnesses, and that sometimes the best medicine is not medicine at all, but a change in lifestyle and behaviour. National Medicines Week is a specia l chance for us to pay attention to medicines and their wise use.

It now gives me very great pleasure to launch National Medicines Week 1998.

Thank you.