Policy

Everything we do must be through the lens of patients and their carers

Michael Azrak shares his views on why it's more important than ever for the voice of patients to be recognised and heard across the Australian healthcare system.

September 1, 2021

Share this article

article hero thumbnail

I recently had the honour of sharing my views on the rights and roles of Australian cancer patients in our healthcare system alongside my industry peers at a National Oncology Alliance webinar run by Rare Cancers Australia.

The discussion was robust and there was strong agreement that now is the time for change.

MSD believes that Australian patients deserve the broadest possible access to medicines in the shortest possible timeframe – from registration by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to reimbursement on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) – with a timeframe of just 90 days certainly achievable in Australia.

article quote image

"Now is the time for change in Australia to ensure the patient voice is embedded within key health decision-making."

Michael Azrak

Vice President & Managing Director, Australia & New Zealand.

Michael Azrak (R) with patient Peter Suffolk (L) who joined a clinical trial for lung cancer

In Australia, medicines are evaluated for their clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness for the lives of patients and the health care system – this process is called ‘health technology assessment’. The process advises whether a health technology (medicine, vaccine or medical device) should be used, and if so, how it is best used and which patients will benefit most from it.

Access to medicines

Access to medicines should be a fundamental right for Australian patients and now is the time to reform our health technology assessment system so that this right is recognised.

Patients are taxpayers, patients are constituents, and it’s a patient’s right to be able to have broad access in under 100 days from registration. We see it happening in other countries, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be happening in Australia.

The current review of the National Medicines Policy is a critical opportunity for patients to share their views about access to medicines in Australia. Through this process, patients should share their views on the need for timely and affordable access to medicines.

The patient voice

Bowel cancer patient Glenys told MSD recently that she was only able to access a clinical trial after her cancer diagnosis, because her ‘son asked all the right questions’ at her medical appointments. And another bowel cancer patient Anna told us that her parents helped to self-fund her treatment because it was not available on the PBS.

It should not come down to the patient knowing the right questions to ask or having the right mechanisms to receive the medicines they need for a diagnosis as serious as cancer. Australian patients should have ALL the treatment options available to them, when they need it, within our universal health care system.

"It shouldn't come down to the patient knowing the right questions to ask or having the right mechanisms to receive the medicines they need for a diagnosis as serious as cancer. Australian patients should have ALL the treatment options available to them, when they need it, within our universal health care system."

Time for action

Patients need confidence that the Australian system for reviewing and making new medicines available to patients is robust enough to allow access to medicines through the PBS 90 days from TGA registration. The recent Parliamentary Inquiry into the approval processes for new drugs and novel medical technologies in Australia, as well as the current review of the National Medicines Policy are critical opportunities for patients, industry and government to achieve real and significant change for our health care system.