Around the Globe: Australia/New Zealand
Health Technology Assessments: Australia’s Independent Review, New Zealand’s New Collaboration
TGA Has New Leadership
Richard Day
University of New South Wales

n April 2023, the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care launched an independent Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Policy and Methods Review of the Australian government’s funding and subsidy schemes for providing medicines, medical services, immunizations, and life-saving drugs to the citizens of Australia. This review is a major commitment under the Strategic Agreement 2022-27 between the Commonwealth of Australia and Medicines Australia, the leading association of the research-based medicines industry in Australia.

Australia’s HTA process relies on scientific evidence to assess the quality, safety, efficacy, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of health technologies. As Medicines Australia CEO Elizabeth de Somer noted: “After 30 years, it is long past time for reform to the HTA policies and methods to ensure Australians have timely access to the latest medicines and vaccines.” The review has involved all stakeholders—industry, scientists, clinicians, and patients—and the resulting recommendations are eagerly awaited, and will be implemented in July 2024.

The quality and value of HTA to New Zealand will be boosted by New Zealand’s Pharmac organization becoming the fourth member of a well-established international collaboration between HTA agencies in UK, Canada, and Australia. Chief Executive of NZ Pharmac Sarah Fitt noted Pharmac’s 30-year contribution to optimizing the suite of cost-effective medicines and medical devices available to New Zealanders, and forecast even greater value for New Zealanders from joining this collaborative. Through this agreement, New Zealand will be a welcome contributor to “horizon scanning” for new medicines and devices and the ongoing quest for partners for more effective HTA methodologies needed to unravel the medical, social, economic, and ethical values of products submitted for registration that must be fairly considered and quantified by HTA agencies acting on behalf of their citizens.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of Australia has a new manager, replacing recently retired Professor John Skerritt (listen to DIA podcast interview). He has been succeeded by Professor Tony Lawler, previously the chief medical officer of Tasmania and deputy secretary of Clinical Quality, Regulation and Accreditation with the Tasmanian Department of Health. Professor Lawler will be deputy secretary in the Commonwealth’s Department of Health and Aged Care, responsible for Health Products Regulation which includes the TGA. Professor Lawler served as Tasmania’s emergency medicine operations commander during the COVID emergency. His LinkedIn profile notes: “As a specialist emergency physician, specialist medical administrator and public service leader, I am passionate about the role of policy, regulation and leadership in supporting health practitioners to provide the best care to patients and consumers at their most vulnerable.”

Readers may recall the widespread concern that followed the defunding of NPS MedicineWise, the outstanding national resource supporting “Quality Use of Medicines,” by the former Federal government, a decision upheld by the new Labor government. As a result, many functions of NPS MedicineWise were handed over to the Australian Commission on Safety & Quality in Health Care on January 1, 2023. In a more positive development, some of these important functions have been relocated to well-established and respected organizations expected to maintain the high quality and effectiveness standards of these resources. For example, the venerable and highly recommended Australian Prescriber, one of the oldest independent, high-quality drug information journals globally, has moved to the excellent Therapeutic Guidelines group. The acclaimed National Prescribing Curriculum, a superb collection of interactive modules that allows students to work through the management of common chronic medical conditions, is now in the capable hands of the University of Tasmania. This resource of more than 25 modules is a recommended or compulsory part of the curriculum for senior undergraduate students of medicine, pharmacy, and nursing across most major universities in Australia. However, academic detailing on important topics promoting the quality use of medicines to primary care practitioners (General Practitioners) across Australia, one of NPS MedicineWise’s most effective resources, has not been re-established and its future is uncertain.