PharmAus 20: Partnerships, determination and openness critical success factors for the road to recovery says Government and experts

18 September 2020: Medicine Australia’s final PharmAus20 session for the year saw Australian experts and Government representatives reinforce the need for a purposeful and determined approach to the nation’s recovery – but with an openness for reassessing existing processes and welcoming greater community contribution.

“It was a great privilege to be joined by the Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt for our final PharmAus20 session, together with an esteemed group of experts providing their views and insights on a positive and achievable road to recovery,” said Elizabeth de Somer, CEO of Medicines Australia.

“The need for partnerships, resilience but also an openness to review our past approaches was reinforced. We have seen incredible agility and determination in the past six months – ensuring we continue on this path, while also embracing input from the community on this new journey, will be essential for our success,” she added

Joining PharmAus20 from quarantine, Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt, MP acknowledged the critical role industry continues to play in the pandemic and the strong working partnership formed with Government.

“The industry has played a central role with COVID-19 and will continue to be critical in our nation’s recovery,” he stated. “The supply chain challenges were very real – but we worked hard together to overcome them. This ongoing partnership together with long-term certainty and momentum moving forward will be very important.”

“Our capacity to address challenges and bring them forward at pace has been astounding,” he added.

“To date, we have seen 30 million telehealth consults take place. A process anticipated to take 10 years to complete was achieved in 10 days.

“With the Federal Budget in the wings, job creation is now a priority to support our economic recovery. We see industry’s role as central to this – working on the frontline with the vaccine but also making Australia a stronger health destination for trials, research and development and manufacturing. This will be good for Australia but also for the Asia Pacific region,” concluded Minister Hunt.

Caroline Edwards, Associate Secretary for the Department of Health also contributed to the discussion reinforcing the scale and complexity of the health response with COVID-19 while also paying respect to the 824 families where lives had been lost including 619 deaths in aged care.

Reassurance on the management of the significant budget deficit was provided by ex-ANZ Chief Economist Saul Eslake.

While Australia is in its first recession since 1991 and we have a long road to recovery, we should not be worrying excessively about the nation’s debt – this needs to be viewed very differently to household debt,” he stated.

“Our recovery depends on our success in defeating the virus. It also depends on how much, and how, the Government supports the recovery process.  And while I am normally a “fiscal conservative” – this is a time when Governments should be prepared to run big budget deficits to win battles (against the virus), protect people (against poverty), and spur recovery – as we did following WWII.”

“As a nation we should not be unduly concerned with the debts being incurred now and in the years immediately ahead, because the interest rate on that debt will be lower than we have ever seen before,” he added. “But this shouldn’t be used as a cover for irresponsible spending. We need to ensure value for money – directing our funds in fighting the virus, supporting households, businesses and laying the foundation for the future,” he added.

Professor Terry Nolan AO, Head of Vaccine and Immunisation Research Group at the Doherty Institute and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, who is actively involved in the Australian COVID-19 vaccine research effort, reiterated the need to look closely at the frameworks for assessment and approval of new vaccines and make this an opportune time to further improve our process.

“We really have an opportunity now to bring Australia into line with best practice worldwide, and to enhance the PBAC mechanism for the review and approval of new vaccines,” stated Professor Nolan.

“This includes greater transparency and more formal input from consumers.”

“With the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines – we also cannot be complacent and feel everyone will take up the vaccine when it arrives,” he added. “People will need greater reassurance on safety. As a nation, providing information and guidance to the community on vaccines is an area where we excel – so directing our focus here will be very important to ensure a strong recovery from the pandemic,” added Professor Nolan.

Paul Cross, founder and publisher of Daily Dispatch also reiterated the need to reconsider Australia’s Health Technology Assessment processes – expressing his concern on it becoming too institutionalised and process orientated with the pandemic recovery, losing its agility and an openness to review and consideration.

“As funding becomes increasingly constrained, we risk the system becoming more entrenched versus taking on board what is actually happening around us. We need to be asking ourselves is this a system we would build if we started again. How can we also ensure patients and the community are effectively represented? Industry needs to be very active in encouraging this,” stated Mr Cross.

“We welcome the incredible expertise, honesty and considerations shared today for an effective road to recovery,” concluded Liz Chatwin, Country President Astra Zeneca Australia and chair of Session four of PharmAus20.  “We appreciate this path will require patience and determination – but also an ability to embrace and adopt the innovation and transformation that will be essential for us to succeed.”