Australia's opposition Liberal-National Coalition has pledged that, if it wins next month's federal election, it will empower the Health Minister to list, on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), recommended medicines that do not cost more than A$20 million in any of their first four years of listing.
In its Policy to Support Australia's Health System the Coalition, led by Liberal Tony Abbott, says it will work to ensure new medicines are available as soon as possible through the PBS, restore "integrity" to the PBS listing process and restore the independence of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).
The convention of previous governments was to respond the independence and advice of the PBAC about the treatments that should be made available on the PBS, says the Policy. However, within months of signing a memorandum of understanding with the pharmaceutical industry to provide policy stability in return for A$1.9 billion in savings, the Labor government deferred the PBS listing of seven medicines and a vaccine recommended by the PBAC, and announced that in future every medicine recommended by the Committee would have to go before Cabinet for approval.
"Labor's actions directly jeopardised patient access to new medicines," says the Policy, adding; "under a Coalition government, the independence of PBAC will return and its recommendations will no longer be ignored."
Its announcement has been welcomed by industry group Medicines Australia, which said that giving the Health Minister authority to list products that do not cost more than $20 million in their first four years "has the potential to significantly streamline the listing process."
Currently, submissions of new medicines are receiving multiple rejections and delays, industry frustration is high and the number of new molecules being listed is at 20-year lows, says the group.
"It is vitally important that Australian patients can have confidence that they will continue to be able to access the latest scientific breakthroughs," added Medicines Australia's chief executive, Dr Brendan Shaw.
The industry has also welcomed the Coalition's pledge to prioritise and accelerate clinical trial reforms. Pointing out that the number of new clinical trials has fallen by over 25% since 2007, the Coalition says it will work with the sector to provide a nationally-coordinated approach to clinical trials, reduce complexity of ethics processes and, where possible, rationalise the number of ethics committees.
The federal election will be held on September 7.