Concern over the safe provision and delivery of chemotherapy medicines to cancer sufferers following the impact of savings through Price Disclosure, has seen a recent senate enquiry recommend that the Department of Health and Ageing work with industry stakeholders to comprehensively review chemotherapy funding arrangements in order to “ensure the ongoing supply of these drugs across all services”.

Medicare Australia PBS data shows that more than 13,000 life-saving infusions are prepared and dispensed by community and private hospital pharmacies for cancer patients each week. While Price Disclosure has led to massive savings for the government after drug patents expire, it is now recognised that the associated margins had previously cross-subsidised the provision of many specialty services associated with supplying chemotherapy.

Catholic Health Australia voiced a common fear that continuing to ignore the complexity and cost of providing a full cancer service will mean that “over time, private hospitals will have no choice but to withdraw from the provision of some chemotherapy services”, creating an impossible burden for public hospitals.

Without intervention, patients risk having access to chemotherapy services restricted, being forced to travel further for their treatments, and/or being forced onto potentially long waiting lists in the public health system, which is also affected by the funding model. This may in turn lead to worse outcomes for patients in the long term.

Any disruption to cancer care services, particularly in regional and rural areas, is considered unacceptable. There are more than 40 regional oncology clinics or hospitals considered to be ‘at risk’ due to this funding crisis. The Government must ensure these essential and highly toxic medicines can continue to be prepared, and delivered, safely to patients throughout Australia, without any additional costs to patients, pharmacists, cancer clinics or hospitals.

The senate enquiry focussed on patient access to treatment and the costs of preparation, delivery, and administration for pharmacists, suppliers, and hospitals, where this new review will thoroughly examine existing funding arrangements, and explore new models to achieve a sustainable structure that recognises and manages all the components of chemotherapy dispensing and supply, including the clinical services provided during treatment.

To this end, HPS Pharmacies welcomed the Government’s acknowledgement of the need for reform, and importance of the private sector, demonstrated by investment in interim funding to ensure continuation of chemotherapy services during the review.

HPS Pharmacies continues to be active through the Community Pharmacy Chemotherapy Services Group, representing all providers of chemotherapy services to the private sector. The group’s priority is “to place patients’ interests, care and wellbeing first and foremost in the considerations of decision makers”.

They will be keen to present to the review committee that three major concerns for patients continue to be:

  • Safety: ensuring the safe provision of all medicines to patients.
  • Cost: the cost to patients and their families of care, and the cost to advanced care pharmacists, private hospitals, and cancer clinics in providing chemotherapy safely to patients.
  • Access: ensuring equitable and timely access to treatment locations in both private and public sectors and in particular, in regional and rural regions.

References:

  1. Senate Committees. Supply of chemotherapy drugs such as Docetaxel. Canberra; Parliament of Australia; 2013. Available from www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=clac_ctte/chemotherapy_drugs/index.htm. Accessed 8 April 2013.
  2. Department of Health and Ageing. PBS Chemotherapy Medicines Review. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing; 2013. Available from www.health.gov.au/chemo-review. Accessed 7 June 2013.