The past ten years has seen some effort put into improving the compliance rate and health gains by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the use of western medicines. Emphasis has been placed on chronic disease conditions which are having a serious impact on longevity of life and forcing a wide gap in life expectancy between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians. The average “gap” is shown to be 17 years although by region those living in remote areas of Australia have a lower life expectancy and are thus crucial to “closing the gap” on an Australia wide count.
The respective stakeholders in primary health care each has a concern for the health of Indigenous Australians. The needs of the patient must be paramount over the processes that suit a mainstream population. Too often remote living Indigenous Australians have been forced to accept a mainstream model of service delivery when their needs reflect more that of a Third World country requiring a program designed to specifically meet their needs. This applies to the Section 100 PBS to remote AHS arrangements. In urban areas where possible the needs of the patient can be made to fit the mainstream model and this should be done rather than establishing new processes. The QuMAX and Close the Gap programs have failed to do this effectively.
- · The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia
- · The Australian Medical Association
- · Australian Divisions of General Practice
- · Royal Australasian College of Physicians
- · Royal Australian College of GPs
- · Rural Doctors Association
- · National Rural Health Alliance
- · Australian Pharmacy Council
- · The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia
- · Special PBS listing of medicines specifically for Indigenous Australians
- · Section 100 arrangements for supply to remote living Indigenous Australians
- · Special allowance for pharmacists supplying remote health services under s100 to implement quality use of medicine measures
- · National Prescribing Service program for “outreach pharmacists” to remote Aboriginal health services (OPRAH)
- · QuMAX program for cost of DAAs to Indigenous patients attending eligible community controlled health services.
- · Close the Gap co-payment relief for Indigenous people attending eligible general practice centres and registered for chronic disease management.
The following comments are now made on each of the above:
The list is essentially medicines which can be bought over the counter at a pharmacy. The cost of such an item when added to the PBS list and supplied in accordance with a legal PBS order immediately increases the cost to taxpayer by the dispensing fee, safety net recording fee and in the instance of urban dwellers the “additional extra charge”. This result means either the PBS or the consumer is paying more because of PBS listing unless the consumer has a Health Care Card.
This has increased the availability of the full range of PBS general list of medicines to remote Aboriginal health service. However in devising the reimbursement formula to supplying pharmacies no consideration has been given to meeting the cost of dispensing at the AHS as the PBS does for every other Australian attending an Approved Pharmacy. The result has been poor quality in the standard of pharmaceutical care and no apparent indication of which party is responsible for improvements. The State/Territory governments are responsible for ensuring the legal requirements for supply are being met whilst the Commonwealth should be responsible for ensuring the remuneration is adequate to meet the principles of the National Medicines Policy.
This allowance has provision for two visits a year by a pharmacist to an Aboriginal Health Service to which the pharmacy is supplying medicines. This is inadequate to meet the needs of the patients attending that centre to understand and comply with the expectations of the medicine. Trust and confidence as a member of the central team is simply not possible with such infrequent visits. Reports of the major mission being to check for out dated stock do not indicate a high level of QUM activity.
This program has the distinct advantage of bringing together pharmacists who are involved in the supply function to remote AHSs. This could provide a forum for a wide ranging discussion on improving quality and the avenues that work but unfortunately due to the policy of the NPS it is an educational session on a topic identified though “focus groups” in mainstream Australia and does not always bear relevance to a vital subject in remote Aboriginal health. If it was more directed to the target audience it could be more relevant.
Participants should be assisted to understand the social determinants for health and where the management of medication use fits in to the overall patient care and prevention of illness process.
This program has failed to meet a wide audience of need due to its restriction to the community controlled sector. Funding for this program will cease on 30 June 2011. Even then the bureaucratic processes that have been established have not assisted a rapid uptake of co-payment relief or provision of more DAAs. An examination of the 13 page “Business Rules and Guidelines” is testament to this. The money spent on preparing, implementing and evaluating these could have been well spent in providing a pharmacist to many ACCHOs to do what they wanted in the spirit of community control.
The positive side for NMP purposes is that it assists in paying the bill at the pharmacy providing the services and thus add to its likely sustainability.
The provision of DAAs through this program will cease on 30 June 2011 while this has been seen by pharmacists as a positive aid to adherence. A scheme such as exists for Department of Veterans Affairs beneficiaries is advocated to replace the QuMAX initiative.
While the QuMAX program assisted patients of community controlled health services, the Close the Gap program assists patients attending a GP centre or an ACCHO thus replacing the QuMAX scheme. Patients eligible to register must be considered at risk of developing a chronic disease. The notion that cheaper PBS medicine will improve adherence is suspect as at some ACCHOs patients have had “free” medicine for years. This program is simply helping to “pay the bill” at the local pharmacy and not assisting the patient to obtain the quality needed to meet principle three of the National Medicines Policy shown above.
The complicated bureaucratic process to obtain the benefits is believed by some to be “not worth the effort” while the Indigenous patient has no idea of what the programs are or how best they can access them. Even pharmacists are confused as to what applies to whom.
No data is available to analyse drug utilisation as happens with the mainstream PBS. Although this has been called in a review of the program – Medicare Australia is still unable to make publicly available detailed statistics.
As a general principle all benefits should be made to fit a program developed with the Indigenous patient as the beneficiary. The PBS contains various elements that can be utilised to suit the need. There is no reason why NGOs such as the Pharmacy Guild, NACCHO or Divisions of General Practice, should be involved in delivering a program that falls within the scope of PBS capability with the elements to obtain special benefits for special groups of patient needs.
The reality is that for some patients money would have to be paid to them for them to take their medicine. Making it available at little or no cost does in no way help them to understand why they should take it.