Reshaping Australia’s scheduling environment to improve medicines access is an urgent priority, writes Dr Deon Schoombie.
The ageing population and increasing burden of disease pose enormous challenges for continuing to provide health services at sustainable levels. Empowering consumers to take more responsibility for their health and measures to make better use of scarce healthcare resources are some of the policy responses to these challenges.
A number of recent government inquiries have identified pathways for reform, with a notable emphasis on more person-centred care, encompassing greater personal responsibility, a focus on preventative health and making better use of available healthcare resources.
As Australia’s health system grapples with a range of cost and service delivery challenges, it is worth considering whether the country is keeping pace in terms of access to the best and most affordable consumer healthcare medicines.
Access to medicines forms a key element in enhanced consumer self care, by enabling people to obtain efficacious and safe non-prescription medicines from pharmacies and other retail outlets.
A proactive approach to increasing access to medicines and providing the tools and information for consumers to engage in responsible self care has the potential to deliver significant public health, social and economic benefits.
However, industry is concerned about the ability of the current Scheduling Policy Framework to provide the contemporary policy support and guidance to the scheduling system necessary to enable this proactive approach.
The Expert Panel conducting the Review of Medicines and Medical Devices Regulation recently recommended the Scheduling Policy Framework be reviewed in consultation with the State and Territory Governments to provide for the development and adoption of a formal risk-benefit methodology applicable to scheduling applications. ASMI supports this recommendation.
ASMI believes that increasing access to medicines should be a fundamental plank of the emerging health policy landscape. For this to occur there will need to be some key foundational steps. These include:
- policy development with the involvement of all key stakeholders – government, consumers, healthcare professionals, industry and educators;
- an agreed list of disease categories to target and medicines to manage those;
- access to information for consumers and healthcare professionals;
- community pharmacists with the skills and tools to manage chronic and more serious conditions in collaboration with GPs; and
- regulatory processes that facilitate the rescheduling of medicines without compromising public health and safety.
ASMI advocates for the establishment of a multi-stakeholder taskforce to undertake a comprehensive and coordinated review of the Australian scheduling environment and to develop a switch agenda to meet future health needs.
Dr Deon Schoombie is the executive director of ASMI.