Groups call for action from the government on shortages of medicines for pain relief

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A group of stakeholders has written to Health Minister Mark Butler detailing their concerns around forecast medicine shortages and reduced access to pain relief.

The letter has been signed by Palliative Care Australia (PCA), the Australian and New Zealand Society for Palliative Medicine (ANZSPM), the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia (SHPA) and Palliative Care Nurses Australia (PCNA).

The concerns relate to products containing morphine or oxycodone, used in palliative care and chronic pain management, supplied by Mundipharma.

The groups say the products have been discontinued or will be discontinued over the next 18 months. They say temporary measures put in place by the TGA do not mitigate the risk for patients.

“The cost of alternatives sourced from overseas to replace locally-registered medicines is almost always higher, and this can be a barrier for many people and health services," said SHPA president Tom Simpson.

"There is no guarantee that the alternative product will be subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) either which can easily quadruple the cost of the discontinued Australian-registered product."

In the joint letter to Minister Butler, the groups recommend a range of actions, including that the minimum reporting period of palliative care medicine shortages and discontinuations be extended from six months to 12 months.

They recommend earlier communication and engagement to allow the safe transition to alternative medicines and a review of the current process for TGA registration and PBS listing to ensure critical medicines are affordable in a timely way. They suggest waiving application fees and inviting pharmaceutical companies to make submissions for PBS listings for medicines of critical need or special populations free of charge.

They also recommend proactive sourcing of additional opioid medicines and formulations by the TGA to enhance the options available to patients and health services, and the development of sovereign manufacturing capability.