Hennessy gazumps Hunt on prescription monitoring

Pulse+IT was indulging in a session of Olympic-class eye rolling on Friday after we received a bunch of tweets telling us that Greg Hunt was boasting his government was going to solve the long-term problem of accidental prescription drug overdoses by funding the roll-out of a national real-time prescription monitoring scheme to the tune of $16 million.

We've covered this topic at length for many years now and were there the last time this scheme was announced, which was back in 2012 and by a different health minister in a different government and costing $8m at the time. (This of course followed $5m being allocated two years before that, in the Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement.) It's the same old story though: here's a problem we know about, here's one way we can help solve it, let's do very little for five years and then – ta-da! – here's $16 million and a nice press release. All sorted.

Not quite. We were lamenting just this week the tardiness of the states and territories in organising themselves for the introduction of the Tasmanian-developed Electronic Reporting and Recording of Controlled Drugs (ERRCD) system, after Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick announced that reporting of Schedule 8 medicines dispensing would move from monthly to weekly and a business case for ERRCD would be developed later in the year.

While some states have had to change legislation, five years is plenty of time to develop a business case, Cameron. We are well aware that the states and territories have been holding out for more federal money to help introduce the system but five years is going a bit too far.

So we were absolutely chuffed to then receive a press release from the office of Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy announcing that her government will take a much harder line on RTPM than anyone else. We've been trying to get information out of the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services for over a year about the $29.5 million project it is running but to no avail. And then voila – Cameron Dick announces something, Greg Hunt raises the bar, and then Hennessy comes in and gazumps them all.

Victoria will not just roll out a RTPM system but will make it mandatory for doctors and pharmacists to use. It will include not just S8 drugs of addiction but Schedule 4 drugs such as tranqs like Valium and Normison and newer 'Z class' sleeping pills like Stilnox, a combination of which are almost inevitably present in state coroners' reports on accidental overdose deaths. The scheme will also eventually cover codeine, which is being rescheduled to S4 next February and is also a regular presence in those coroners' reports.

So after many years of calls for action from bereaved families, alcohol and other drugs organisations, state coroners, general practitioners, pharmacists, addiction specialists, researchers, the medical software industry and other interest groups, the federal government announces $16 million – an absolute pittance in a multi-billion dollar health budget – and a state government reveals a tough regulatory scheme, and the expectation is the problem will now be solved. Not so fast. The work has just begun.

This brings us to our poll question for the week: Do you think RTPM should be mandatory for doctors and pharmacists? Sign up for our weekend edition and vote in our poll, or comment below.

Our poll last week asked: Is decision making in eHealth transparent enough? Pretty overwhelming: just six per cent said yes, while 94 per cent said no.



0 # Mark Santamaria 2017-07-29 09:48
Great news, but does it go far enough?
We have also been talking about electronic prescriptions for about the same length of time, and a combination of the two would provide patients, and clinicians greater protection.
Clinicians should be able to see what prescriptions have been dispensed to prevent oversupply or interactions. Paper prescriptions for S4 and S8 substances are valuable commodites in the illicit market, and electronic ones should make the process more secure.
So, well done, but keep going and get electronic prescriptions sorted.
0 # Paul Campbell 2017-07-29 12:15
I would have hoped (in futility?) that the COAG meeting of health ministers could sorted this out - is it not a national issue?
+1 # Philip Robinson 2017-08-01 15:21
My understanding is that yet another web-based system will be developed. There is existing software infrastructure in GP / Community Pharmacy Sector (e.g. Medical Director, Best Practice, FRED with eRx) but significant challenges for specialists especially surgeons prescribing S8 pain medications. Also, implementation in the hospital sector problematic with Pharmacy Systems tending to be National so agreement on Standards important. Why we are re-inventing the wheel when existing infrastructure e.g. MedView and, dare i say it, My Health Record will contain a super-set of medications (not just narcotics .

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