‘We have deep concerns’: NPS MedicineWise fights funding cuts

Jolyon Attwooll

4/05/2022 7:09:09 PM

Leaders at the organisation, which had its funding removed in the most recent budget, are calling for the decision to be reviewed.

NPS MedicineWise has been involved in stewarding the quality use of medicines for more than 20 years.

Executives at the not-for-profit NPS MedicineWise have moved onto the front foot to protest the planned de-funding of the organisation, which was announced in the final Federal budget of this electoral cycle.
NPS MedicineWise CEO Katherine Burchfield and Dr Andrew Knight, a Sydney GP and the chair of the organisation’s board, have now called for a review of the decision.
If the budget cuts are put in place, it would mean NPS MedicineWise will no longer receive Federal Government funding – its principal source of income – from the end of the year.
Most of the organisation’s Quality Use of Medicine (QUM) stewardship responsibilities are also due to transfer to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) in 2023, the Department of Health (DoH) confirmed last month.
Dr Knight, however, says that he has significant concerns about the implications.
We can’t help but feel that it’s a tragedy to see [NPS] being split up,’ he told newsGP. ‘And we have deep concerns. Will its capacity be passed on?
‘Obviously we care about [NPS]. But as a GP, to me the most important thing is that the capacities are passed on and continue for practitioners and for the public.’
The transition of skills was one of the main concerns raised by Professor Mark Morgan, Chair of RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care, when the news of the budget decision emerged.
‘I am concerned that years of experience and knowledge that is held by NPS will be lost in any transfer of roles to another organisation,’ Professor Morgan previously told newsGP.
‘QUM should not be about saving dollars.
‘It should be about ensuring the right care to the right person at the right time. It should be about high-value care and not about lower cost care.’
The DoH has previously told newsGP that it would provide $3.9 million funding to facilitate the handover to the ACSQHC, and that the changes would ‘help improve access to vital information for clinicians and patients regarding medicines, diagnostic tests, and possible harmful medication interactions.’
It also said there would be competitive grant processes put in place for projects to deliver education to health professionals and improve health literacy for patients surrounding the use of medicines.
Dr Knight also believes that any duplication of work currently done by the NPS and ACSQHC could be resolved, and queries whether the dynamic surrounding QUM would work the same way with GPs if a new organisation were involved.
‘I am a taxpayer, I don’t want taxpayers’ money wasted,’ he said. ‘We work closely with the commission. We’re confident we can get rid of duplication.’
‘We have great respect for the commission in their role. However, they do a very different role.
They’re really quality assurance. They set standards, they check that people comply. That’s really important.
‘But they don’t do behaviour change. They don’t implement the way we do. And you really need an independent, trusted advocate for quality use of medicines. I just don’t know whether clinicians will be willing to trust the commission in the same way as NPS.’
It was a point also raised by Ms Burchfield.
‘We have a central focus on quality use of medicines, and are a trusted, 'go to’ resource and independent voice that is highly valued by consumers and frontline health professionals, particularly GPs,’ she said.
‘Our value and impact comes from our independence from any particular health professional discipline, and government.
Dr Knight confirmed the news in the budget had come as a complete surprise to those working for the organisation. 
‘When you’re involved with a not for profit, like NPS, you’re there for the mission,’ he said.
‘Our board and our staff are really committed to the mission at NPS so we’re incredibly disappointed.
‘We feel like it’s an asset for the Australian people that’s been built up over 24 years, with an incredible list of parts, which form a greater whole.’
‘It can always be improved but we believe [it is] a very important and unique asset to the Australian people, which has been very important through the pandemic.
Dr Knight also highlighted the timing of the budget decision with the National Medicines Policy currently under review.
‘Why would you defund an organisation before the review was concluded?’ he said. ‘I just don’t understand why you would do that.’
NPS MedicineWise says it is likely that GP data held by its MedicineInsight dataset would transfer to ACSQHC under the new set-up, as well as oversight of its website and apps.
Ms Burchfield, in the meantime, says she wants the organisation to continue into next year, regardless of whether the budget decision is overturned.
‘NPS MedicineWise has other funding sources and will look to continue its operations beyond 31 December 2022,’ she said.
‘However, it will not have the remit or funding to continue in its current form.’
A DoH review published in 2019 said there was ‘almost universal acknowledgement that NPS MedicineWise produces high quality, valued resources. It also put forward 37 recommendations, which included criticisms of the organisation’s collaboration and transparency.
None of those recommendations included defunding or discontinuing the organisation, which has existed since 1998.
Both the Minister for Health Greg Hunt and the Shadow Minister for Health Mark Butler were approached by newsGP for their views on the call for a review of the budget cuts but neither responded.

This story has been updated to correct a typo in the spelling of Dr Knight's surname.
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Dr Nicole Jayne Higgins   5/05/2022 9:46:25 PM

The NPS is a high value, low cost program.
It is recognised and utilised by most GP's as essential part of their prescribing toolkit.
As a supervisor who teaches the next generation of family doctors, I am shocked and disappointed at the loss of this wonderful educational and reference resource.
I am a much wiser prescriber due to the education and support delivered by the NPS and their visiting pharmacists.