The National Medical Stockpile was established in response to potential terrorist threats following the events of September 11, 2001. It was expanded to include health emergencies of natural causes with the addition of antivirals following an increasing concern over the potential for pandemics of avian influenza in 2003/4, and H1N1 influenza in 2009.
Human influenza pandemic preparedness now dominates the $196 million invested by the Department of Health on more than 110 million items consisting of 42 different medicines, vaccines, antidotes and personal protective equipment.
The speed of reaction to international events meant a shortfall in “high-level planning, assessment of risks and management processes” during the implementation of the stockpile; with governance, funding, and administrative arrangements being established later.
Reports of the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), however, have observed that the management has been “generally effective”, while also recommending that objectives, priorities and strategies should be updated.
The stockpile is intended to augment State and Territory Government reserves, and the current Liberal Government have allocated funds to drive reform; firstly to negotiate the roles and boundaries between the States and Commonwealth, and then to improve access by disseminating the stockpile more widely within existing health services.
This could be problematic as the particular products, their locations, and deployment logistics plans have previously been carefully restricted for security reasons.
The ANAO further recommends improved controls in managing warehousing contracts, stock data, deployment arrangements, and to refresh the risk management plan. They identify the greatest strategic risk to be Government funding.
This is understandable given the cost of replacing expired products and maintenance has been $750 million over ten years, and that the best outcome for the stockpile is that it should never be used.
- Australian National Audit Office. Management of the National Medical Stockpile. No. 53. Barton: Commonwealth of Australia; 2014.