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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Government rejects recommendation for pharmacist initiated COVID-19 antivirals

Health Industry Hub | February 21, 2024 |

Pharma News: The Department of Health and Aged Care has finally unveiled its response to the House of Representatives Long COVID inquiry report after almost a year. The inquiry, initiated in September 2022, received an overwhelming 600 submissions, held extensive hearings, and released its comprehensive report Sick and Tired: Casting a Long Shadow on April 24, 2023.

The report’s examination resulted in nine key recommendations, totalling 20 due to some containing multiple parts. The government has signalled its support for eight recommendations, supported in principle another six, took note of five, and notably, did not support one specific recommendation. Deciphering the nuanced language of government responses reveals that whether the government supports, supports in principle, or simply notes a recommendation, it implies a hesitancy to take any action.

The only recommendation explicitly rejected by the government is the proposal to allow antiviral treatments for COVID-19 to be initiated by pharmacists for eligible participants under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The government justifies this stance by emphasising the necessity to comply with existing legislation, asserting that antiviral treatments fall under Schedule 4 (‘Prescription Only’) in the Poisons Standard. According to state laws, pharmacists are generally restricted from prescribing Schedule 4 medicines.

The committee’s recommendation was grounded in evidence from the Pharmacy Guild, which highlighted successful pharmacist-initiated COVID-19 antiviral treatments in the US, Canada, and NZ. The committee argued that adopting similar measures in Australia would alleviate pressure on GPs and benefit individuals struggling to secure timely appointments within the critical first five days of COVID-19 infection. This, in turn, would enhance patient access to antiviral treatments, especially in rural and remote areas, ultimately reducing the burden on public hospital emergency facilities and other health services.

Health Minister Mark Butler, while delivering the government’s response, made no new funding announcements for long COVID. He highlighted that the government had already allocated $50 million for long COVID research through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and had developed a national plan outlining the health response framework for long COVID.

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