Australia's federal government is ignoring its own growth forecasts for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and making policy decisions without an evidence base, says the industry.

The federal cabinet would have found no need to block the listing of new drugs on the PBS if the government had "even bothered to look at its own forecasts of what the PBS is going to be doing over the coming years," Brendan Shaw, chief executive of research-based industry group Medicines Australia, has told a conference in Sydney.

In particular, the latest report from Medicare Australia which shows that the PBS grew 2.8% in the year to March 2011, compared with a rise of 3.3% for the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the 12 months, confirms that PBS spending is under control and not presenting the government with any fiscal challenge, says Medicines Australia.

"This data shows that the PBS is actually going backwards in real terms. Whatever concerns the government has about health expenditure, the PBS is one area of spending that it knows is being well contained," added Dr Shaw. 

Moreover, the Treasury's own forward estimates contained in last year's Budget show that the PBS is set to grow only 2.1% per annum in real terms over the next four years.

The argument that PBS expenditure needs to be micro-managed by the cabinet "just does not stack up against the latest available evidence," said Dr Shaw, yet the government "chooses to ignore all of its own projections and its own data and continues to impose further ad hoc, knee-jerk cost containment measures," he added.

"If anything, the fact that government support for Australian patients is falling at the same time as the government is seeking to further restrict Australians' access to medicines should be a concern for all Australians," said Dr Shaw, and in fact a new survey of consumer health groups and individuals reports that 80% are "extremely concerned" at the new policy requiring all new medicines to be considered by the cabinet for approval on the PBS.

"This is the strongest member reaction, the strongest expression of concern about any health issue in recent times," said Carol Bennett, chief executive of the Consumers Health Forum (CHF) of Australia. Ms Bennett, with Dr Shaw and other representatives of industry, patient and consumer groups and the medical professions, met recently with Health Minister Nicola Roxon to persuade the government to abandon the policy of deferring PBS listings of drugs recommended by its own advisers.

However, after the meeting it was reported that Ms Roxon had indicated that the government would not being reconsidering the policy, although she did emphasise that the deferrals are temporary "and will be reconsidered when the circumstances permit."