National Close the Gap Day effort needed on key medicines for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Today is National Close the Gap Day, a day for the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association to reflect on our core purpose of supporting universal healthcare, especially for Australia’s First Peoples.

‘With our universal healthcare system we have a great foundation in Australia for a healthy population’, said AHHA Strategic Programs Director, Dr Chris Bourke.

‘But sadly this still does not hold true for many of Australia’s First Peoples. Many do not have the same access to, or outcomes from, healthcare as non-Indigenous Australians.

‘And it’s a painful truth that despite many improvements, the gap in health and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and other Australians is not closing.

‘While reasons for the Gap are multi-factorial, there is one simple, concrete improvement that the Australian Government could make in terms of making access to key medicines easier for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

‘To give credit where it is due, in 2010 the Australian Government introduced the Closing the Gap Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) Measure, and the Remote Area Aboriginal Health Services s100 program to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander access to medicines and pharmacy services.

‘While the programs are both of great benefit, a key problem is that they are limited by location—substantial gaps remain around access for people when they are away from home, whether in a regional town visiting family, or in a metropolitan hospital receiving treatment for a serious illness.

‘This problem has been highlighted in work the AHHA is doing in partnership with the Heart Foundation to improve cardiac care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in public hospitals—the Lighthouse Hospital Project.

‘There are several ways in which this situation can be improved, and we suggested as such in our pre-Budget submission to Treasury this year.

‘Governments could act by:

  • Enabling hospitals, when they are discharging registered Closing the Gap patients, to access the Closing the Gap funding necessary to provide a complete medication supply and Dose Administration Aids as required.
  • Revising registration of patients for the Closing the Gap PBS Measure to include patients typically accessing medicines through Remote Area Aboriginal Health Services, to enable consistent and adequate medicine supply at times of hospital discharge.
  • Revising the prescriber categories for Closing the Gap prescriptions to include both Remote Area Aboriginal Health Services and hospitals, to enable provision of key medicines to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients regardless of setting.
  • Adding the provision of Dose Administration Aids to the list of medicines funded through the Closing the Gap and s100 programs to improve safe adherence to medicines by patients at high risk of not doing so.

‘These are all small administrative changes that could result in significant improvements to access and adherence to medicines, and help Close the Gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health’, Dr Bourke said.

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The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, and community and primary healthcare services.

Media enquiries: Dr Chris Bourke, Strategic Programs Director, AHHA, 0418 869 443