PBS access during bushfires ensured

consult pharmacy pharmacist patient consultation medication prescription

Government passes emergency measures to ensure patients affected by bushfires can access PBS subsidy for medicines when doctor’s script not immediately available

Continued dispensing arrangements have been extended to PBS medicines that can be supplied through community pharmacies, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced on Friday night.

These changes will ensure that people who may have lost their valid prescription or are unable to see their usual doctor due to bushfires can still access their usual prescription medicines under the PBS subsidy.

The temporary arrangements will come into effect from 13 January until 31 March 2020, and will apply to most medicines generally supplied by community pharmacies. 

The PBS co-payment is currently $41 for general patients and $6.60 for concessional patients for medicines that may cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars per script without subsidy. 

Under the usual state and territory legislation, pharmacists may supply a limited amount of a medicine to a patient without a prescription under emergency supply measures, however patients would have had to pay the full cost of this medicine.

These temporary changes to continued dispensing arrangements will allow pharmacists to give patients up to one month’s supply of the PBS-listed medicine, without a script, once in a twelve-month period depending on which State or Territory they are in.

The supply of medicines under these arrangements is subject to a strict set of professional guidelines.

The patient must previously have been prescribed this medicine and the pharmacists must be satisfied it is urgently needed.

This move supports the recent issue of temporary authorities to legally supply a standard pack of most prescription-only medicines in an emergency in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT.

Previously, emergency supply had been restricted to three days’ worth of medicine.

Medicines dispensed under State and Territory government emergency provisions to date will have valid PBS subsidy claims honoured, the Health Minister said.

Pharmacy Guild national president George Tambassis thanked Minister Hunt for acting swiftly to ensure that patients who require the supply of medicines, in circumstances where they do not have access to a prescription or a prescriber because of the disruption caused by the bushfires, will be able to access their medicine without undue additional cost.

“This welcome measure will allow pharmacists to assist patients in bushfire affected areas – it’s all about helping people at this stressful time,” Mr Tambassis said.

PSA National President Associate Professor Chris Freeman said, “PSA have been working with the government and its departments on this issue for many months and we congratulate the leadership shown by the Health Minister on [the] announcement.

“The last thing people need in the middle of this crisis is to find the money to pay for their medicines which would have otherwise been subsidised. This provision will make a huge different to unfair and unexpected out-of-pocket medicine expenses for people who are displaced by fires.”

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  1. pagophilus

    So how does that work in practice with our dispensing software.

    • Anthony Tassone


      The National Health (Continued Dispensing – Emergency Measures) Determination 2020 can be found via the below link:


      Below is a link to a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) resource for the expansion of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Continued Dispensing Arrangements to Support Australians Affected by the Bushfire Crisis


      With regards to dispensing and how it will work practically, the Continued Dispensing changes require system changes by dispense software vendors and Services Australia – Medicare which will take time to implement.

      While all claims for eligible Continued Dispensing supplies will be honored by Medicare, Members should check with their software vendor as to what arrangements are in place to dispense, record and claim, and when their software systems will be updated. As an example, Fred IT have already commenced communications to pharmacies outlining the changes and interim arrangements.

      Anthony Tassone
      President, Pharmacy Guild of Australia (Victoria Branch)

      • pagophilus

        Thank you for that. It wasn’t available earlier in the day.

  2. Andrew Tooms

    NB this does not apply to the RPBS as far as I can see… Happy to be proved wrong, but I suspect a further piece of subordinate legislation would be needed in order to allow RPBS dispensings to be done in the same way, especially for those items not on the PBS.

  3. Andrew Tooms

    Re my previous comment – I’m wrong. The RPBS ss 16A-18 seem to be sufficiently broad to cover continued dispensing for repat patients.

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