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Medicine calls finally get answered


The widely-loathed PBS Authority Prescription system is to be reviewed as part of Federal Government efforts to cut down on red tape, potentially saving doctors and patients thousands of hours wasted waiting for telephone calls to be answered.

Health Minister Peter Dutton revealed at the AMA National Conference that he had initiated a review of the Authority Prescription scheme following AMA calls that the system be streamlined.

But the Minister knocked back the AMA’s suggestion that the system be scrapped altogether, arguing that “there are occasions when the Authority system is important to ensure that patients are only given medicines that are safe and appropriate”.

There are currently 447 PBS-listed medicines that can only be prescribed with the specific approval of the Department of Human Services.

Doctors complain that they regularly experience lengthy delays waiting for calls to the Authority Prescription line to be answered.

Recently-released Department of Health figures show that only half of all calls to the service between October last year and February this year were answered within 30 seconds, with 16 per cent of callers forced to wait two minutes or longer to speak with a clerk.

In its submission to a systematic review of authority listed medicines being conducted by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, the AMA said doctors spent the equivalent of 25,000 patient consultations each year waiting for their calls to the Authority free call service to be answered.

The AMA said the pointlessness of the system was underlined by the fact that only 2.8 per cent of calls to the service did not result in prescription authorisation.

“Allowing patients to get the medicines they need as quickly as possible is an absolute priority for the Government,” Mr Dutton told the AMA National Conference, adding that “we are also committed to reducing unnecessary red tape and paperwork for health professionals when they prescribe medicines”.

The Government said the review would “build on the PBAC’s consideration of a submission from the AMA that recommended the movement of a number of medicines from Authority Required to Authority Required (Streamlined)”.

The Review will look at the criteria used in assessing whether or not access to a medicine should be subject to authorisation, as well as examining all current Authority Required listings.

The Review will be conducted in tranches, with those medicines subject to most authority requests to be assessed first.

This group of medicines includes cancer treatments, as well as multiple sclerosis and arthritis drugs, and the results of the assessment will be presented to a PBAC meeting in November.

Treatments for psychiatric, cardiovascular and eye conditions will be included in the second tranche, which will be considered at a PBAC meeting in March next year.

The final tranche of medicines, which will include drugs used in palliative care, will be considered in July next year.

Former Chair of the AMA Therapeutics Committee, Professor Geoffrey Dobb, said last month that the Department’s efforts to push more medicines onto the streamlined Authority list (which means doctors do not need to get prior Department authorisation but just include the relevant four-digit code on the prescription) was welcome, but more needed to be done.

“Moving more medicines into streamlined approval arrangements is an encouraging development, but we need to keep the pressure on [the Department] to allocate proper resources to the phone line service,” Professor Dobb said.

Mr Dutton said he expected the review to result in savings of more than $7 million a year, with a significant number of medicines removed from the Authority list.

He said the review would be undertaken in consultation with the AMA, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Society of Hospital Pharmacists, Medicines Australia and other groups.

The terms of reference for the review will be finalised by the PBAC at its meeting next month.

The draft terms of reference can be viewed at:

In a further move to cut the administrative burden on doctors, Mr Dutton told the AMA National Conference that from early 2016 five of the 10 current PIP Incentives would be collapsed into a single measure centred on continuing quality improvement in general practice.

“We will continue to work with the AMA and others to finalise details of the new incentive and improvements to PIP,” the Minister added.

Adrian Rollins