NPS MedicineWise funding faces the chop

4 minute read

The Albanese government will implement a cut flagged in the last budget that dismayed many healthcare professionals.

Despite vocal opposition and a promise from Labor to review the decision, the defunding of NPS MedicineWise will proceed as outlined in the last federal budget.

That budget measure will cut Department of Health funding for NPS’ delivery of Quality Use of Medicines (QUM) functions from 1 January 2023.

The organisation’s CEO Katherine Burchfield wrote to Choosing Wisely stakeholders on Friday evening with the news.

“We have been advised that there will be no changes to the federal budget decision and that as from 1 January 2023, stewardship functions will move from NPS MedicineWise to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC),” Ms Burchfield wrote.

“Whilst not unexpected, this is an extremely disappointing outcome for the organisation. We are working through the details and next steps for the organisation and more information will be provided as and when we are able to do so.”

Choosing Wisely, which is facilitated by NPS and supported by 45 member colleges, societies and associations, lists recommendations of tests, treatments and procedures that both clinicians and consumers should consider questioning.

According to Ms Burchfield, Mr Butler had 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”.

The ACSQHC will take on key QUM stewardship functions.

Those expected to be transferred from NPS 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 which NPS runs for health professionals and consumers. These will move to contested funding, meaning NPS will compete against other organisations on price and quality.

NPS called for a review of the budget measure following its announcement, pointing to major returns on investment achieved through its medicines-related education programs and resources since the organisation’s establishment 24 years ago.

And during the run-up to the election, the ALP promised it would indeed conduct a review.

“In the 2022 budget, the Morrison government ceased funding NPS MedicineWise as the steward of supporting doctors and patients on the safe and quality use of medicines – work NPS MedicineWise has been responsible for since 1998, a period which has seen their work deliver a $1.1 billion saving to the PBS,” Labor told the organisation.

“This decision has been criticised by doctor and consumer groups alike, who raise concerns about the implications for people’s health.

“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,” Labor said.

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, now Health Minister, to ensure any funding review would secure the publication’s future.

“The content of Australian Prescriber is determined by an independent editorial executive committee of clinicians,” the petition read. “The information in Australian Prescriber is therefore trustworthy and relevant to Australian practice.

“As Australian Prescriber is available to students, a generation of health professionals has grown up with the journal. We hope this important contribution to undergraduate and postgraduate education can be sustained.”

RACGP President Adjunct Professor Karen Price described the decision as “very disappointing”.

“The news came as a complete surprise to us when it was proposed in the Budget earlier this year, and we were very vocal in expressing our disappointment at the time, especially as the announcement came without any consultation,” Professor Price told TMR.

“NPS has been a reliable evidenced-based resource that will be missed. We hope at least that the expertise and knowledge they have developed over the years will not be completed lost and quality use of medicine programs in primary care continue to see dedicated funding and attention.”

The relationship between NPS and the ACSQHC came under scrutiny in a December 2019 DoH review of NPS’ delivery of its QUM programs.

That review recommended the relationship should be “further developed”, and the two organisations should have “complementary priorities and share expertise to avoid duplication and promote consistent messaging wherever applicable” to ensure the most efficient use of Commonwealth dollars.

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