NPS MedicineWise activities to be axed, Fed govt confirms

By Geir O'Rourke

5 Sep 2022

NPS MedicineWise says it has abandoned any hopes of a reprieve from the Federal Government, with Minister for Health Mark Butler confirming its funding for Quality Use of Medicines (QUM) activities will cease at the end of the year.

Labor had promised to review the decision announced back in March to end uncontested funding for NPS MedicineWise to provide QUM stewardship functions, a cut of around $25 million annually.

At the time, Mr Butler noted the organisation’s work supporting doctors and patients on the safe and quality use of medicines had saved over $1.1 billion to the PBS.

“This decision has been criticised by doctor and consumer groups alike, who raise concerns about the implications for people’s health,” the then-shadow health minister said.

What the review involved, and who sat on the expert panel, has not been made public, but it appears to have found little to justify any of those concerns following the change in government.

As a result, the QUM funding will instead go to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC), which will also take over the service’s website and the MedicineInsight dataset.

The Practice Review letters sent to doctors comparing their prescribing of PBS-listed medicines with others in their specialty are also now expected to come from the commission.

It is not clear what effect the funding cut will have on other NPS MedicineWise functions such as the Australian Prescriber journal.

“The independent review supported proceeding with the reforms,” a spokesperson for Mr Butler said last week.

The spokesperson said the program would be redesigned to recognise “the extensive medicines quality and safety programs, standards and information already provided by the ACSQHC” as well as “consolidate stewardship for quality use of medicines and diagnostic tests”.

“The redesigned program will include additional funding of $3.9 million to support more activities to boost confidence and knowledge about using medicines and diagnostics tests safely and effectively, both for consumers and healthcare providers,” they said.

“These activities will be sourced through open, competitive application processes.”

NPS MedicineWise CEO Katherine Burchfield said she was disappointed but not surprised.

“Unfortunately, the review outcome is not one that we would have hoped for,” she wrote.

“The conclusion of the review has been found to be that the policy intention of the 2022-23 Budget Measure is appropriate for the delivery of the Quality Use of Diagnostics, Therapeutics and Pathology Program.”

“As such, we have been advised that there will be no changes to the Federal budget decision and that as from 1 January 2023, stewardship functions will move from NPS MedicineWise to the ACS.”

Nevertheless, she said it was yet to be decided whether the organisation would be wound up.

“Whilst not unexpected, this is an extremely disappointing outcome for the organisation,” she said.

“We are working through the details and next steps for the organisation and more information will be provided as and when we are able to do so.”

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