I want to begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal and Ngambri whose land on which we meet and pay my respect to their elders past, present and emerging. 

Of course in noting the unacceptable scourge of Indigenous disadvantage in our country, we had the Closing of the Gap report last sitting week which showed we are going backwards in too many measures.

I also want to acknowledge the role of pharmacists in so many remote and metropolitan communities working to reduce that gap. 

Thank you for that work, and I commit myself to working with you and other organisations to eradicate the gap of Indigenous disadvantage in Australia. 

Welcome to Parliament House, it’s good to be here. I imagine you were allocated this room, but it’s an appropriate room for this gathering, the Dame Dorothy Tangney Room. 

Dame Dorothy was the first female senator, in Australian history, the first Labor Member of Parliament, served for a couple of decades and was for a period the only female senator in the old building. 

She dedicated her life to causes such as improving aged pension, aged care, and calling for the introduction of a pharmaceutical benefits scheme.  

I acknowledge my colleagues Richard Di Natale and Richard Colbeck.

And I particularly want to acknowledge my colleague Emma McBride, who is well known to the PSA.

Emma served her community as a pharmacist for almost two decades before she was elected as the Member for Dobell in 2016 – making her just the eighth pharmacist to sit in the Parliament in 119 years.  

Emma is now my Assistant Shadow Minister on Mental Health, but I rely on her much more broadly on health policy.

I also want to acknowledge your President Chris Freeman, as well as other PSA members who’ve travelled from around Australia to be here today. 

Of course, you’re here to launch this report on Medicine Safety in Aged Care, and I’m pleased to help you do that.

And this morning is also an opportunity to reflect on other issues in pharmacy.

It was Bob Hawke who said:

“A hundred years ago it was the physician who was the main provider of care for the ill.
But with the invention … of a never-ending range of new pharmaceuticals, the primary health care role of the physician has increasingly been shared by the pharmacist …

Families have increasingly looked to pharmacists as a source of convenient, efficient and reliable advice …

And pharmacists have increasingly brought new skills and professionalism to the task of meeting those needs.”

Bob said that in 1990 – shortly before his Government signed the first Community Pharmacy Agreement.

But those words are still true.

In fact, they are probably even more pertinent today, because in the last three decades our reliance on pharmacists has only grown.

And of course, Bob’s model to address issues in pharmacy has stood the test of time, because you are now negotiating the 7th CPA.

I say “you” because the PSA is at the table for this year’s negotiations.

I understand you will be a signatory, announced to the CPA which I welcome, and I hope you are involved in meaningful discussions around the CPA because it will ensure that the views of pharmacists are heard, as well as the views of pharmacies.

I hope that as well as being a signatory you are fully engaged in the process.

Of course, the final shape of the Agreement will affect pharmacists in important ways.

But even more importantly, the 7th CPA – like previous agreements – will help shape the health of your millions of patients.

And frankly that’s the principle that will guide Labor as we consider the 7CPA and pharmacy more broadly.

Not what’s good for pharmacists or pharmacies or doctors.

But what’s good for patients.

Where your interests align with those of patients, you’ll have my unwavering support.

And in the report you are launching today, you suggest one such area.

As a nation, we’ve been appalled by the evidence to the Aged Care Royal Commission.

Many of us have seen family and friends failed by the system. But the Commission’s work so far has highlighted that this is a truly national, truly massive challenge. 

And you are right to draw attention in this report to the particular issue of medicine safety in aged care.

Several findings in the report are alarming.

Over 95 per cent of people in aged care have at least one problem with their medicines – and most have three problems.

That has huge consequences for our aged and health care systems.

One in five unplanned hospital admissions from aged care facilities are due to inappropriate medicines.

But more importantly, it has huge consequences for older Australians.

Up to 50 per cent of people in aged care are on medicines that can cause sedation or confusion.
Half.

And so I think this report is an important contribution to our national discussion on aged care.

It poses problems – but it also suggests solutions, such as lifting the cap on medicine reviews.

I hope the Government will give the recommendations in this report full consideration in the context of the Royal Commission and the 7CPA. 

And of course, all governments – Commonwealth, state and territory – have agreed to declare medicine safety as a National Health Priority Area. Which I very much support and I am sure you do as well.

We don’t yet have details of what that will mean in practice, but I would hope that aged care would now be a focus of that process. 

I also think the issue of medicine safety in aged care is part of a broader discussion on ensuring access to primary care.

We like to say that Medicare ensures universal access to care for all Australians. But 36 years after its creation, we are overpromising and underdelivering. 

One in five Australians wait too long for a GP appointment. Like older Australians, women and people who live in disadvantaged areas or the bush fare even worse.

That contributes to the pressure on our emergency departments, where presentations are at record highs.

The good news is that all Australian governments now agree that pharmacists should play a part in improving access to primary care.

We saw that last flu season, when pharmacists administered over two million vaccines.

We saw it over the summer, when I want to acknowledge that so many pharmacists were at the frontline of bushfire affected communities in a way which wasn’t sung through the media. 

But quietly going about the role of providing support to individuals, families and communities. Getting medicine for people who were cut off from their normal supplies. An area I know well on the South Coast, sending boats up and down the coast to get medicine to communities. Thank you. That needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.

We need to consider the role of pharmacists as we consider the role of emergency and disaster response going forward as well as to what can be done better next time. And also some interest topically the role of pharmacists if we are to deal with a pandemic at any point in the near future as well. It needs to be considered, expanded and promoted.

Labor agrees that pharmacists can work to their full scope of practice without fragmenting or duplicating care.

But should that include provision of a wider range of vaccinations? Access to the National Immunisation Program? Repeat prescriptions for some medicines?

Ultimately those are clinical questions. Again, we must be guided by one principle only: how is the best interest of the patient served?

That question can only be answered in collaboration between pharmacists and other health professions, and with experts in government, guided by clinical best practice.

The upcoming review of the National Medicines Policy is an important opportunity for that collaboration.

Labor is hopeful it will be a big and bold review across the entire medicines pipeline, from research and development at one end to safe use of medicines at the other – and of course including your role in between.

I have expressed some concern with the timeline that’s been allowed for the review of the National Medicines Policy that it is too tight for that to be a substantial review. I hope that is not the case. I have expressed some concern, certainly if it is a big, bold and comprehensive review, it will have my full support. If it is not, I will have some criticisms.

The current National Medicines Policy sets out important objectives, like “timely access” and “quality use of medicines”.

That’s what pharmacists have helped deliver in the decades since Labor created the PBS.
But we shouldn’t take it for granted. Our system faces a range of challenges – and again, this report highlights an important one. 

So I look forward to frank and constructive engagement with the PSA as we strive to improve health outcomes for all Australians.

Thank you.