The outgoing CEO of NPS MedicineWise says a lot has changed in two decades, but it was “brave” pharmacists at the beginning who led the way
Dr Lynn Weekes AM, who trained in pharmacy at the University of Sydney in the early 1980s, first worked as a pharmacist at St Vincent’s Hospital before joining NPS MedicineWise in May 1998 as its inaugural CEO.
Back then it began as the National Prescribing Service Limited, the lead implementation body for quality use of medicines and medical tests evolving from the National Medicines Policy and working independently of government.
“It’s changed quite a lot [since then] because we started with a board and myself – that was really all,” Dr Weekes tells AJP.
“We’ve now grown to about 300 people so it’s quite a different organisation.
“Our initial remit was to work with general practice and with prescribers to improve prescribing, and then because we really needed to work with consumers in order to have an effect, we started work in that area.
“We eventually had some programs funded for consumers quite specifically.
“The biggest achievement has been ensuring that consumer needs take the forefront of what we do, because that’s something we have to keep working at.”
NPS MedicineWise has more recently been able to collect data from general practice to “show them what they’re prescribing looks like” and use that data to drive improvement in prescribing practices.
The organisation also has strong relationships with pharmacists.
“We work with pharmacists a lot, quite specifically on our programs, and whenever we’re visiting doctors we’re also visiting pharmacists and providing them with materials and ensuring they have the same information that all the doctors have,” says Dr Weekes.
“We employ a lot of pharmacists as well, I come from pharmacy background and a lot of our staff are also pharmacists; a lot of our visitors who see doctors one-on-one in their rooms are pharmacists.”
She says those who began with NPS MedicineWise “in the early years were very brave pharmacists because they stepped out of the usual mould and did something quite different.
“It’s a now more established career path, but at the beginning 20 years ago it wasn’t, and those people were really pioneers in doing quality use of medicines in this particular way – not in your usual pharmacy or in a hospital.”
While Dr Weekes departs at the end of this month after 20 years in the CEO role, she expects the organisation will continue to grow and improve.
“I think it has a great future going forward. There will be challenges along the way, there always are.
“The ground is still very fertile for my successor, [but] there’s still a lot of work to do of course.
“The great opportunities are that we continue to really stay true to our mission, to understand where we can add value, that we do support some of the new models of care including pharmacists in primary care.
“That’s a really interesting new development and I think we have a great role in helping those pharmacists deliver some of their services.
“NPS will go from strength to strength because of the value it creates for health consumers, and because it makes a difference.”
Chair of NPS MedicineWise, Peter Turner, said that Dr Weekes has been an exemplary health leader and a champion for improved health care and decision making.
“Lynn’s contributions to the community through quality use of medicines were formally recognised in 2013 when she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia,” said Mr Turner.
“Anyone who has worked with her understands how integral she has been to embedding quality use of medicines and other health technologies into the Australian health system.”
With plans to take a nine-month sabbatical with her husband in Europe, Dr Weekes reveals to AJP that during this time she will be writing a book about what the team has done at NPS.
“So trying to record that and ensure that some of the methodologies used are well understood and can be used by other people around the world. And after that I’ll see what comes!”