Last week the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport Inquiry into approval processes for new drugs and novel medical technologies in Australia released its long awaited report ‘The New Frontier - Delivering better health for all Australians’ which will have real consequences on how long it takes to access new technological treatments for people living with chronic pain and other health conditions.
Access to appropriate and safe medicines – both current and new – has an enormous impact on people with pain conditions. Medication remains a mainstay of treatment for chronic pain and will likely continue to be for as long as multidisciplinary pain management remains inaccessible to most Australians due to cost and availability.
After an 18 month Inquiry, the ‘New Frontier’ report recommends better community education and consumer input into approval of new medicines as urged by Painaustralia in our submission, and in our subsequent evidence provided to the Committee at its Canberra based hearing in March this year.
With new drugs and novel treatments coming onto the international market all the time, it is important that people living with chronic pain conditions are able to provide input to the process that determines what gets subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). The New Frontier report has picked up this point and in the words of Chair Trent Zimmerman MP ‘patients do have a crucial perspective on what treatments work best for them, including important lifestyle benefits, but this has traditionally not been given enough attention within the regulatory system’.
The New Frontier report specifically highlighted our comments to the Inquiry noting that ‘Painaustralia reflected the views of many patients when it submitted that ‘existing mechanisms for consumer input into PBAC processes [are] limited, and inaccessible to grassroots consumers. It gave a recent example when it was consulted by the PBAC through its Deputy Chair on belimumab, a treatment for lupus, on a ‘limited timeframe and quick turnaround’, which it said showed ‘the inadequacy of PBAC’s current mechanisms to seek consumer input. [Painaustralia] recommended the values developed by Health Technology Assessment International’s Interest Group for Patient and Citizen Involvement in HTA as a ‘useful starting point’ for improvement’.
The Committee further cited our recommendation that a model of consumer consultation should follow United Kingdom’s NICE approach to patient engagement. The report notes that ‘Painaustralia likewise singled out NICE for its ‘scoping and consultation workshops,’ as well as patient representation on its committees.’
The report has considered the impact of making new technologies and treatments available at the earliest possible time so that Australians are not missing out on life changing treatments that could improve their quality of life.
In the words of Deputy Chair Dr Mike Freelander MP, ‘our science has progressed to the point where our individualised care for a whole range of illnesses, ranging from cancers through to neuromuscular disorders, is based on genetics and genomics and we will have individualised treatment for most of the disorders that we see in health care in the future. Our system, which was designed 20, 30 or 40 years ago, needs to be updated so that we can cope with this tsunami of genetic and genomic treatments’.
As noted in Painaustralia’s submission, ‘chronic pain is complex but access to safe and effective treatments are fundamental, particularly when there are a lack of affordable treatment options available. We need to provide consumers with access to affordable, innovative and best practice treatments. We need a systematic way to consult consumers throughout the entire regulatory process from registration to reimbursement and for that input to be considered, valued and adopted in HTA decisions that have a very real impact on the quality of life of those living with pain and other health conditions’.
I remain hopeful that the excellent work of this Parliamentary Committee Inquiry on Health, Aged Care and Sport will, if acted upon, deliver real results for people living with chronic pain, providing them with quicker and better access to the latest pain treatments. In the words of Trent Zimmerman MP, ‘acting now to build on our obvious strengths in health will have enduring benefits for all Australians, for this generation and future generations to come.’