Major government investments in pharmacy come under question in federal parliament
A couple of key pharmacy funding programs have been raised in recent Senate estimates hearings, and have prompted a confused response from Department of Health officials.
The questions were raised at last week’s first day of the Senate Estimates Community Affairs Committee hearing.
The questioning began when Senator Stirling Griff (Nick Xenophon Team, SA) asked Department of Health staff about a 2016-17 financial year payment from the department to the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia of $829,906, “as part of a contract, to update its professional practice standards and code of ethics”.
“Is this the first time the department has paid this society, or any society, to update their standards?” he questioned.
“Does the department, as a matter of course, pay private industry bodies to update their own standards and codes of conduct?”
The initial response from department officials was that “clearly, if we are looking at enhancing the role of the pharmacy profession, which of course we certainly do… we will engage with the relevant professional association. They’re not an industry body; they’re a professional association. Their principal role is to enhance the overall professional quality of services delivered by pharmacists in the community pharmacy sector, the hospital sector or wherever else pharmacists practice”.
However, Penny Shakespeare, Department of Health first assistant secretary, Technology Assessment and Access Division, later clarified that “I’m fairly certain that that contract period related to the work to update around biosimilars, but I would need to check that those are the right dates. And I’d say that the work would have been completed within the time periods for the contract”.
She told Senator Griff she would supply details of when the resultant work had been completed and launched.
Later in the same hearing, Senator Griff returned to the topic saying he had “reviewed the code of ethics and there’s no mention of biosimilars at all. There’s just one mention of biosimilars in the professional practice standards. So it does not appear that that relates to biosimilars”.
“What I was able to find though is that it looks like there was another payment of almost $5 million given to the Pharmaceutical Society for guidelines for new and expanded pharmacy programs, and I imagine that was the item that referred to biosimilars not the $829,906?”
In response, Ms Shakespeare said “that’s a different project” and elaborated that the PSA contract for the revision of the professional standards is “around ongoing support for pharmacies for new and amended pharmacy programs” and was linked to the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement.
This “included a range of new payments for pharmacy programs, provided to the community through community pharmacies. The PSA is developing education and training support materials for pharmacists to assist in the rollout of those programs. That is what the additional payments are for,” Ms Shakespeare said.
“So ‘biosimilars’ was incorrect,” Senator Griff questioned in response, before requesting a breakdown of any similar payment arrangements.
Both the PSA and Pharmacy Guild have been contacted for comment.