News in brief: NPS MedicineWise calls for review on its funding; Breathing program shows benefit in COVID patients: study; Public supports cigarette sales ban

NPS MedicineWise calls for review on its funding

The future of NPS MedicineWise is under a cloud because the service has lost almost its entire Federal Government funding, its CEO says.

It follows the federal budget announcement back in March that the NPS would no longer receive uncontested funding to promote quality use of medicines, a cut of around $25 million annually.

The money 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 and.

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.

NPS MedicineWise CEO Katherine Burchfield says the decision is a mistake.

“We are disappointed and concerned with what this means for Australia at a time when quality and safe use of medicines is listed as a national health priority,” she says.

“While there is no doubt that the ACSQHC has a key role to play in quality use of medicines, and has strong capabilities and networks, it performs a different role and function in the health system to that of NPS MedicineWise.”

“The two organisations should work together, using their different strengths and levers, to enact change.”

She said the service had contacted Minister for Health Greg Hunt to request he reconsider.

Breathing program shows benefit in COVID patients: study

Researchers trialling an online wellbeing and breathing program developed by the English National Opera (ENO Breathe) have reported improvements in breathlessness and mental wellbeing in people with long COVID.

ENO Breathe, which was developed by the ENO’s learning and participation team alongside clinicians, is a  6-week, online program that aims to retrain breathing via singing techniques.

In the randomised controlled trial, 150 patients recovering from COVID-19 with ongoing breathlessness at least 4 weeks after symptom onset were randomised to either intervention with ENO Breathe or usual care.

The results, outlined in a paper published by The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, showed that compared with usual care, ENO Breathe was linked with an improved mental health composite score but not with an improved physical health composite score.

Visual analogue scales for breathlessness (running) also favoured ENO Breathe participation, the researchers said.

“Our findings suggest that an online breathing and wellbeing program can improve the mental component of HRQoL and elements of breathlessness in people with persisting symptoms after COVID-19,” the researchers concluded.

In a related comment, Enya Daynes, a research physiotherapist at Leicester Glenfield Hospital, said the authors provide “a novel intervention that can be added to the breathlessness toolbox in the treatment of COVID-19 symptoms and beyond.

“Further evidence to support other interventions in the treatment and management of COVID-19 symptoms is essential and would add to the suite of options for healthcare professionals, which would have a positive effect on service provision,” she added.

Public supports cigarette sales ban

A retail cigarette sales ban may once have been unthinkable, but a national survey suggests most Australians would support the action, Melbourne researchers say.

Their 2019 survey of 1,939 adults found nearly two thirds thought it “would be a ‘good thing’ if there came a time when it was no longer legal to sell cigarettes in shops in Australia”, while 17% considered it a ‘bad thing’.

Around half supported a phase-out process, where products would be removed from Australian stores over a set period but could still be purchased from overseas companies. Sixty-two percent thought it should happen over 10 years.

Specific measures such as licensing for tobacco retailers and restricting sales to places children can’t enter had the greatest backing at 75% and 76%, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, never- and former-smokers were more likely to support the ban than current smokers.

As Australia’s smoking prevalence approaches 10%, “novel policies such as phasing out the retail sale of smoke tobacco products are being considered”, the authors from Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer wrote in Tobacco Control.

“Public support will be a critical factor in achieving the goal of phasing out sales, especially given anticipated opposition and lobbying from manufacturers of smoked tobacco products.”

Greater public discussion, along with research into optimal phase-out strategies and the potential for increased illicit tobacco sales are also needed, the authors concluded.

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