Greg Hunt succumbs to inevitable on National Medicines Policy review

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Health minister Greg Hunt has succumbed to reality in delaying the National Medicines Policy review until after the upcoming federal election.

Medicines Australia confirmed with delay in a media release issued late yesterday.

Minister Hunt has accepted the need to delay the review in response to widespread stakeholder concerns over a truncated process that was intended to be completed within seven months.

Medicines Australia CEO Liz de Somer said the delay follows weeks of advocacy and direct discussions.

“Reforming and modernising the NMP, to keep pace with rapidly evolving scientific and medical advances, is too important to be rushed. It is central to the health of the nation - now and into the future,” she said.

The review was a bipartisan political commitment ahead of the 2019 federal election.

The Coalition committed to launching the review within nine months of its re-election. However, it attributed a two-year delay to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The review process has been consistently revised in response to concerns over the lack of stakeholder consultation.

The concern has focused on the failure to include significant stakeholder input in the revised National Medicines Policy that was released earlier this year.

Rather than reflecting the widespread call for an enhanced focus on access, the revised document included more substantive language on budget considerations, including the potential disinvestment in reimbursed medicines.

While agreeing to delay the review, Minister Hunt has defended the process in a letter to Medicines Australia.

"The 2000 NMP, as a high-level policy framework, is not prescriptive about the programs and initiatives that it informs," he said, which seems a reference to stakeholder calls for the adoption of targets focused on timely access.

"The Committee has adopted the same approach to the draft 2022 NMP. This is consistent with my instructions to the Committee that the 2000 NMP is refreshed as a principles-based document, and that feedback related to the programs and initiatives that align with the NMP, be reported to me in an accompanying summary report," he said.

However, the minister added he has "agreed to defer the finalisation of the revised policy until after the upcoming election" on the basis of stakeholder concerns.

Better Access Australia (BAA) thanked Medicines Australia for making public the government’s decision to hold off the finalisation of the review until after the federal election.

"We are sure that the 150 plus submission makers to the Review and in particular the individual patients and patient groups who have expressed so much concern about this process and the draft policy, will be greatly relieved that there is still a chance to comprehensively review the policy and not merely undertake a tick and flick ‘refresh’," it said.

BAA said a delay is not enough and that its own work to redraft the document "does not stop here."

"We will be releasing our draft of the NMP for anyone to use as a new starting point as they see fit. It will be based on the input of patients, the community, clinicians and industry. We are committed to producing a document that reflects the community’s input.

"In light of this advice from Medicines Australia, BAA will once again be writing to all political parties asking for this Review to be recommenced from a first-principles basis after the election. An independent Chair, new terms of reference reflecting the community’s feedback, and a proper timetable for genuine policy development.  Importantly, we will be asking for full transparency – no hidden sub-reports - just a community and patient-led policy development process," it added.