NPS MedicineWise confirms time’s up

4 minute read

With its government funder owning its IP and assets, the popular prescribing service was left with no options for continuing.

The board of NPS MedicineWise has today announced it will wind up the company’s operations by the end of the year, after the Albanese government decided not to reverse its defunding. 

The move means both health professionals and consumers will lose access to a range of resources to support the safe, quality use of medicines – at least in their current form. NPS has been operating since 1998. 

It follows Health Minister Mark Butler’s decision to implement a measure in the Morrison government’s last budget to cut the organisation’s funding. From 1 January, the organisation’s existing functions will be transferred either to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) or to new contestable funding arrangements. 

While NPS MedicineWise is an independent not-for-profit organisation, the ACSQHC is a corporate Commonwealth entity and part of the Department of Health, accountable to the Parliament and Mr Butler. 

According to NPS MedicineWise CEO, Katherine Burchfield, the organisation tried to find a way to continue its operations with another source of funding, but its IP and assets are mostly owned by its current funder, the government, so they will be transferred to either the commission or the Department of Health at the end of the year. 

“Since the budget measure was announced on March 29, we’ve been looking at things like whether we can reposition and reinvent ourselves,” Ms Burchfield said. “Are there other opportunities for us to work directly with PHNs and state governments? Should we continue to fight? Can we pursue alternative funding? Are there mergers and acquisitions we could look at? 

“But we just couldn’t get past the fact that almost all of our funding will disappear at the end of the year and so our directors decided to pursue a solvent wind-up. 

“We do have some great assets and capabilities that could be repurposed, so we looked at a whole lot of different opportunities. But the reality is we’re on a tight timeline and our IP and our assets are quite tied so we didn’t have a lot left to play with,” she said. 

“If we’d had those at our disposal, then it would have been a different story.” 

The functions expected to go to the ACQSHC include national stewardship and indicators; the MedicineInsight dataset; the MedicineWise consumer apps; and the NPS MedicineWise website and content. 

They do not, however, include the education programs NPS runs for health professionals and consumers. These will move to a contested funding arrangement. 

Mr Butler has decided to proceed with the redesign of the Quality Use of Therapeutics, Diagnostics and Pathology (QUTDP) Program, as announced by the former government in the March 2022 Budget. 

He said his decision followed a “rapid review” of the budget measure by Deloitte Access Economics, reflecting a pre-election Labor promise after strong advocacy from NPS MedicineWise and the health community. 

“This [budget] decision has been criticised by doctor and consumer groups alike, who raise concerns about the implications for people’s health,” Labor said prior to the election, raising hopes that the decision would be reversed. 

“If elected to government on 21 May 2022, Labor will review this decision, with a primary goal of ensuring the quality use of medicines going forward.” 

But the review didn’t go the way NPS had hoped. 

According to Ms Burchfield, Mr Butler told NPS the “policy intention of the 2022-23 budget measure is appropriate for the delivery of the Quality Use of Diagnostics, Therapeutics and Pathology Program”. 

At the same time, the organisation has delivered a net return on investment of more than 2:1 to the federal government by delivering over $1.1 billion in direct savings for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS). 

Criticism of the budget measure also came from more than 7500 readers of the medical journal Australian Prescriber, currently published by NPS. The readers signed a petition to Mr Butler prior to the election, calling for any funding review to secure the publication’s future. 

Ms Burchfield said she believed the DoH was deliberating on where Australian Prescriber would go and that there was “a commitment for it to go somewhere”. 

“My great hope is that once this transition is complete, GPs will still have access to the trusted resources and support and advice they need. But I do think that for a large group of GPs, there will be a sense of loss and uncertainty that comes with this.” 

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