RIP NPS: most GPs will miss you — Survey

Yasmin Clarke

writer

Yasmin Clarke

Data analyst; Journalist

Lynnette Hoffman

writer

Lynnette Hoffman

Managing Editor

 

81% of GPs say the government made the wrong call, but only about half are convinced it was achieving its aims

The government got it wrong when it ended funding for NPS MedicineWise, according to the overwhelming majority of GPs who responded to a Healthed survey.
Most surveyed GPs see NPS MedicineWise as a valuable resource that is practically useful, and a regular part of their practice, and effective at its mandate of improving quality use of medicines.
Yet the organisation will close its doors on 31 December, after health minister Mark Butler decided to go ahead with the Morrison government’s March 2022 budget decision to cease NPS’s funding.

Why was NPS defunded?

The decision to de-fund NPS followed an extensive review in 2019, which noted “almost universal acknowledgement that NPS MedicineWise produces high quality valued resources,” but highlighted several key concerns.

These included a lack of transparency in cost-savings evaluations and conflicts of interest related to VentureWise, the commercial arm NPS set up in 2014, which had clients in the pharmaceutical industry. Another issue the report cited was lack of collaboration with stakeholders, which it said was resulting in “lack of co-ordination and duplication of effort.”

NPS addressed the recommendations from the review, and closed VentureWise in 2020, but its funding was cut from the March 2022 budget.

An outpouring of support followed, and some thought the transition to a new government might save NPS. However, the Albanese government commissioned a rapid review from Deloitte, which cited evidence that NPS’s programs “may not be performing at optimal effectiveness and efficiency” among other concerns.

There have been some concerns over NPS’s independence, and that is born out in Healthed’s survey: while 45% of respondents said NPS Medicinewise was very politically and commercially independent, a greater number were on the fence— 49% said NPS was only moderately or somewhat independent in these spheres.

GPs raise concerns

However many GPs say the loss of NPS will leave a gap.

When we asked GPs about the impact of the $30 to $40 million that NPS MedicineWise received in federal funding each year and its 170 employees, 68% agreed that this was a good use of money and resources.

In the survey, 61% of GPs said they use resources from NPS MedicineWise at least once a week, with many using them multiple times per week.

Most GPs described NPS’s resources as practically useful; 52% rating them as ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ useful, and another 34% said they were “somewhat useful.”

The NPS MedicineWise website and online resources are its most popular content, and are now being run by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care but will still be available at nps.org.au.

New education programs will be funded by contestable grants, and other flagship pieces such as Australian Prescriber and Medicine Insights will go to tender.

What does this mean for quality use of medicines?

Emeritus Professor Lloyd Sansom, who led the 2019 review, told Healthed that times have changed dramatically since NPS was first set up in 1998. Back then, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care didn’t exist, and there was no national accreditation for health professionals or mandated professional development.

“The closure of the NPS does not in any way belittle the importance of quality use of medicines, nor the government’s commitment to that,” Professor Sansom said.
“If you look, in the last two years, we’ve now got a new national health priority, which is medicines quality and safety. You now have a situation where it’s enshrined within a health priority in this country. We didn’t have that for 25 years.”

“If the defunding of NPS, meant a defunding of quality use medicines and technologies, then that would be a disaster. I can’t, at this point, see that the government is saying that at all… They’re simply saying that we will support it, but we’ll support it in a different way,” Professor Sansom said.

However, as Healthed’s survey suggests, not everyone is convinced.

NPS MedicineWise CEO Katherine Burchfield said the positive findings “reinforce our concern that the government has made the decision to cease funding NPS
MedicineWise without considering the needs and preferences of health professionals or consumers.”

“We have received copies of several letters from international colleagues written to Minister Butler in support of NPS MedicineWise, and Australian Prescriber in particular, and asking for a reversal of the funding decision,” she added.

Credits

Survey design – Healthed GP Advisory Board
Survey analysis & visualisation – Yasmin Clarke
Reporting and editing – Lynnette Hoffman

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Yasmin Clarke

writer

Yasmin Clarke

Data analyst; Journalist

Lynnette Hoffman

writer

Lynnette Hoffman

Managing Editor

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