THE HON. CATHERINE KING MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND MEDICARE
MEMBER FOR BALLARAT
ADDRESS TO THE PHARMACY GUILD
FRIDAY, 4 MAY 2018
It’s good to be back at APP.
This is my second visit as Shadow Health Minister – and of course, I’m hoping to join you in a different capacity next year.
We are four days from the federal Budget and no more than a year from the next federal election – maybe much less.
Health will again be front and centre in that election – as it should be, given the Medicare rebate freeze, Commonwealth cuts to hospitals, and the crisis in the affordability and value of private health insurance.
The Health Minister and I will never agree on those things.
But happily, we do agree on most pharmacy issues, and I want to begin today by commenting on two announcements the Minister made yesterday.
First, I am glad that the Government has now responded to the Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation. The Review was a long and sometimes difficult process, and the Government’s response yesterday gives you some long-awaited clarity.
Labor will look at the detail of the Government’s response, and I note that the Minister has flagged further work in some areas.
But at first glance, the response is welcome.
I particularly want to express my support for taking dispensing by vending machines off the table. That idea ignores the crucial role pharmacists play as trusted health care providers.
Second, I welcome the Minister’s confirmation yesterday that the Government will trial a new model to pay for high-cost medicines.
In recent years, as more high-cost drugs have been added to the PBS, community pharmacies have borne huge risks to stock and supply them. In fact, the current system has prevented some pharmacies from dispensing some drugs – undermining your small businesses as well as access to medicines for your patients.
At the same time, the growth of PBS rebates has been rapid – particularly since the listing of Hepatitis C medicines.
Rebates have helped Australians to access innovative medicines at the lowest possible prices. But both pharmacies and the Government now pay billions of dollars more than actual prices – and wait days, weeks or months for reimbursement.
A trial that responds to these issues while maintaining patient access is welcome, and Labor looks forward to more details from the Government.
That said, we are alarmed by reports that the Government has undermined the PBAC process in order to win support for the trial from the medicines industry.
The PBS has always been – should always be – defined by a rigorous focus on clinical and cost effectiveness. The politicisation of that process would be a shocking legacy for this Minister and this Government.
Beyond yesterday’s announcements, there is a lot happening in the pharmacy space.
In 10 minutes I can’t go in to every development in detail, but to name a few:
- The upscheduling of codeine – while necessary – continues to confuse and concern some of your customers.
- Pharmaceutical companies continue to shift towards direct supply of their medicines – presenting opportunities but also challenges, particularly for wholesalers.
- The digital health agenda continues to change the way you dispense and monitor medicines and care for your patients.
Those developments – many of them driven by government – come on top of the underlying shifts in the pharmacy sector that I discussed last year.
It’s a lot for the Guild and your members to be working on – particularly as we’re only midway through the 6th Community Pharmacy Agreement, when you might have expected some more stability.
An agenda that broad calls for two things.
First, it calls for a strong and trusted voice for community pharmacies in Canberra. The Guild continues to be that voice.
In my nearly five years as Shadow Health Minister, I’ve been in constant contact with George and David, with many of your state presidents, and with Guild members around Australia.
We don’t always agree. We have been upfront, for example, about supporting the government’s dollar discount – instead of hiding behind an endless review.
But we always listen, and your advocacy matters. One testament to its effectiveness is the Parliament’s recent vote to remove the sunset clause.
Second, that broad agenda calls for a Government that understands the importance of community pharmacy – and that is committed to working in partnership with the Guild on the opportunities and challenges that are before us.
I want to assure you today that that’s what you should expect from a Shorten Labor Government.
Last week, Labor released our draft 2018 National Platform.
The Platform is our most important policy document. It sets out the principles by which we would govern, and forms the basis for detailed policy-making.
We will continue to consult on the Platform until it is adopted by our National Conference in July. But the health chapter has already been informed by dozens of submissions – including from the Guild, and I thank you for your input.
The Platform is a high-level document. It’s not intended to address every policy challenge or every health profession.
But I’m pleased to announce that for the first time, the Platform is now explicit on the importance of pharmacists and community pharmacies:
- It recognises that you are medicines experts.
- It recognises that you play a crucial role in delivering the National Medicines Policy and the PBS on behalf of government.
- And it calls for primary health care reform to take better advantage of the community pharmacy infrastructure and workforce.
On the last of those – you don’t need me to tell you that your scope of practice is a contentious issue.
But it is an important one as we seek to meet the health care needs of an older and sicker population, and define the role that community pharmacies will play in the future.
Your scope of practice has already expanded into services that are also provided by other professions. As flu season approaches, we are reminded that you now administer vaccines in every state and territory.
But as I have said before, I think the greater opportunity is in services that aren’t provided now, or aren’t provided consistently. If community pharmacies can identify and address gaps in our primary health care system, and contribute to system integration, you will serve patients more and better.
In that context, I welcome the Guild’s major strategic planning project – Community Pharmacy 2025, or CP2025.
The project asks important questions: what should community pharmacies look like in 2025 and beyond, and what steps do they need to take to get there?
I know that those questions will be answered by pharmacies, for pharmacies. But I think the project will be an important resource for governments too – particularly as we begin to think about the 7th CPA.
You are right to identify that governments are interested in rewarding outcomes and better integrating care. You are also right to identify that governments will continue to be constrained by tight budgets.
And you are also right to put forward constructive solutions to those challenges – before the solutions are defined for you by politicians or bureaucrats.
And so I look forward to hearing the outcomes of the project.
I’m conscious that I’m the only thing between you and morning tea. It’s a dangerous place to be at any conference.
So I’ll finish by reiterating Labor’s understanding of your crucial role in our health care system, and our commitment to partnering with you on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
I look forward to working with you in the lead up to the next election and beyond.