Date published: 
4 October 2018
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

4 October 2018



E&OE



Topics: Spinal arthritis drug listed on PBS; GST.



GREG HUNT:



It’s a privilege to be here at Fiona Stanley Hospital with my colleague Ben Morton, Member for Tangney, who’s been an incredible advocate, not just for the hospital but for patients and for Murdoch University. It’s extraordinary to meet leading clinicians and the hospital executives such as Janet, Professor Andrew Taylor, they have Jennifer – representing arthritis patients around the country. And, of course, our amazing patients – to have Casey and Donovan and Karen who have very courageously shared their stories.



Spinal arthritis is a hidden condition, and it can be an agonising condition – inflammation, chronic fatigue, agonising pain, loss of mobility. Today, I am delighted to announce that the Australian Government will release Simponi, which is a medicine for spinal arthritis and this will help 4000 patients access treatment that will help reduce the inflammation, reduce or overcome the chronic fatigue, improve their mobility. Literally, this is about changing and transforming the lives of 4000 Australians. What it will do, is it means that patients will save up to $15,000 a year and instead of that extraordinary cost they’ll now have a cost of $39.50 or $6.40 a script.



Casey’s story says everything. An Australian Rules footballer, playing for Subiaco, off the backline, and he began to lose mobility, have increased pain and – what would normally have in some cases taken seven years to diagnose, possibly longer – because he had a wise physio who directed him to a doctor he got the MRI, the inflammation was evident; he was given compassionate access to Simponi and as a consequence of that, he’s back training and playing footy. And that’s what this medicine can do, it can literally give patients their lives back and their movement back.



For us, if the medical experts recommend that a medicine be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, we’ll do that. But it’s not something you can take for granted; we know that the previous Labor Government stopped listing medicines. They deferred the listing of critical medicines as a budget measure. That is something we will never do and you can only do that when you’ve got a really functioning and effective economy. And, I’m privileged that as a Government, we’re in a position to be able to support all of these medicines and as a result, as of 1 December, 4000 patients will be given government access to Simponi immediately under the PBS. Authorised by Greg Hunt MP, Liberal Party of Australia, Somerville, Victoria.



But even better, with the support of Janssen – the manufacturers – they have agreed to provide compassionate access to all of the 4000 patients immediately. And for Donovan and Karen, that means this week they can start getting the treatment that will help transform and change their lives.



I might ask Andrew to say something and then Ben, if you want to say anything and then perhaps we’ll take any questions.



ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR ANDREW TAYLOR:

Thank you Minister. It really is wonderful news for the many thousands of patients who have non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis. Up until now, all they had to rely on was exercise and anti-inflammatories. They have a debilitating spinal pain and stiffness. Often they only have a window of a few hours in the middle of the day when they can get about their normal work activities and family activities. Often difficult for them to sleep at night, and they are facing seven to ten to twelve years of progressive disease and damage occurring before they could access treatment like Simponi. So for many patients, this is going to turn their life around and is really a wonderful day for those patients. They can look forward now to a promising, healthier future. So we certainly thank the Minister for this wonderful announcement.



BEN MORTON MP, MEMBER FOR TANGNEY:

Look, it's great to have Minister Hunt here today. And what’s really important is that the listing of these drugs are made possible because of a strong economy. We've got to remember that Labor stopped listing drugs on the PBS until fiscal circumstances improved. Those fiscal circumstances have improved with the strong work of the Liberal Government and that's why that these medicines can be listed to see the real results it makes in people's lives, as we've witnessed today. So very proud to be here in the electorate of Tangney, with Minister Hunt to join with him to make this very important announcement that will make a difference to the lives of very many people.



GREG HUNT:

Great and happy to take any questions. If we start with Simponi and then move onto other things.



JOURNALIST:

It's a difficult balance, isn’t it to strike because of course, for patients, you can’t put a price on it I imagine – though unfortunately you have to. But for the budget, you do have to count the pennies. So, is it a difficult decision to make when you’re dealing with people’s lives and health?



GREG HUNT:

So what we've been able to do is get to a position where because the economy is sufficiently strong and so strong, we have made the commitment that every medicine that the experts recommend and they review for safety and effectiveness – we will list. And that has sadly not always been the case in Australian history. It has been under us; it wasn't under the previous government, and I fear that if there were an economic reverse under a future Labor Government, they would go back to that process of drip feeding medicines. We won't; our commitment is that we will always list the medicines that the experts from what's called the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, recommend for listing.



JOURNALIST:

The PBS listing is from 1 December, but this is the first time I’ve heard of this deal being struck for compassionate access beforehand. Is that usual?



GREG HUNT:

So it's not usual, but it's something we've been able to do on our watch. So with medicines for spinal muscular atrophy, also for cystic fibrosis, we've been able to get immediate compassionate access, as well as for breast cancer. Authorised by Greg Hunt MP, Liberal Party of Australia, Somerville, Victoria.



And that's something that I'm trying to inject into the work with companies that if we agree on a listing date, that wherever possible, they will provide compassionate access. It’s not been a historic approach but it’s taking a bit of pressure to the companies and Janssen, to their absolute credit, has accepted it. And what that means is Casey’s already been on compassionate access, but for Donovan and for Karen, this week they should hopefully have access to this new medicine which will mean less pain, more mobility and a better quality of life.



JOURNALIST:

So will that cost differential between now and 1 December eventually be met by the Government or by Janssen?



GREG HUNT:

No, the company is picking up the bill from now until 1 December, and we’ll pick up the bill forevermore after that.



JOURNALIST:

And does the threshold change? As far as I know, it was mentioned that there is often an eight to 12-year wait before patients are eligible for this treatment due the progression of the disease. Will that still be the case or do people get (inaudible)?



GREG HUNT:

No. So what that meant is that, historically, it has taken, in many cases, a long while to diagnose and this was the very thing that Andrew was showing us with the MRIs. The MRI can show immediately, so in a case such as Casey’s- a wise physio, and I think that’s right, Casey…



CASEY:

And a doctor.



GREG HUNT:

…and a doctor combined to ensure that he got the MRI, whereas an x-ray won’t show it, won’t show the inflammation; it will show the bone damage but where it’s the inflammation, only the MRI can fully guarantee and detect that.



JOURNALIST:

So it’s not a case that there is to be a certain level of progression or deterioration before this drug is recommended?



GREG HUNT:

No. Once it’s diagnosed and confirmed and applies to patients in this particular category, a doctor such as Andrew can prescribe.



JOURNALIST:

How much was a script previously – you mentioned how much it will now be – but how much was it costing patients leading up to this?



GREG HUNT:

So all up, about $15,000 a year for a patient, or even more – up to $16,000 a year – and the number of scripts that they would have would depend. But on average I think, Andrew, it’s about, safe to say, every four weeks? So probably 13 scripts a year at well over $1000 a script.



JOURNALIST:

Would you prefer we talked to Casey and the others now or do other issues first? Authorised by Greg Hunt MP, Liberal Party of Australia, Somerville, Victoria.



GREG HUNT:

Let’s do other issues, and then we’ll talk with them.



JOURNALIST:

As a Victorian, what’s your take on the GST issue? Are you in line with WA or…



GREG HUNT:

Yes. This is an outcome that benefits not just Western Australia, but every state. Every state is a winner under this and for the life of me, I can’t see why Mr Shorten and Mr Andrews are turning their backs, not just on WA, but on Victoria. As a Victorian, I want to see Victoria sign up because they would be giving away money which would otherwise help with the hospitals, with schools, with medical equipment. So all of these things are available to Victoria right now, and the alternative is they accept no change and less money, or change and more money. Obviously, for Western Australia it’s about dealing with a historic wrong.



JOURNALIST:

Well if every state is a winner, why not put that clause in the legislation to lock it in (inaudible)?



GREG HUNT:

It looks like they’re playing a game. We’ve already guaranteed that everybody will be a winner. Now…



JOURNALIST:

If you’ve guaranteed it, why not put it in the legislation?



GREG HUNT:

I’ll leave that to the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, but we’ve done what Labor couldn’t and wouldn’t do, which was to ensure that not only is WA given a better, fairer deal forever, but that every state is better off. And as a Victorian in Cabinet, that was one of the things that I know that myself and my colleagues fought for to make sure it wasn’t robbing Peter to pay Paul, but that everybody was better off. In other words, the Commonwealth put in more money.



JOURNALIST:

Ben, are you confident this is going to happen before the election?



BEN MORTON:

Look, this needs to happen. It’s a very important issue for Western Australia and, quite frankly, Western Australians are sick of the political games on this issue, and those political games are coming from Bill Shorten. Bill Shorten made it very clear that he was on a unity ticket after the Prime Minister went for his [indistinct] announced our proposals to fix this GST reform issue long and for all. It is now Bill Shorten playing those political games. Those political games must stop.



The legislation will ensure that that stops. Labor need to get on board; they need to pass these reforms. Importantly, local Labor federal members need to work out just very clearly what their position is. We saw two interviews yesterday, one from Madeleine King and one from Mr Keogh, the Member for Burt; completely different tax courses taken on those two interviews; completely inconsistent positions taken. Labor – here in WA – Labor local federal members need to back Western Australia, they need to seal this deal for Western Australia. Not just because it’s good for WA, but because every state will be better off. And they will be better off because when every state gets more money you are better off with more money than with less. It is as simple as that. Authorised by Greg Hunt MP, Liberal Party of Australia, Somerville, Victoria.



JOURNALIST:

As a former party President, though, you would well know that nine months out from an election they’re counting the votes in Queensland. Is WA going to become the political football again as a result of that? Time’s ticking, isn’t it?



BEN MORTON:

Well the only way to make sure that this doesn’t become a political football is for the issue to be dealt with before the election, and that’s up to Bill Shorten. Bill Shorten can have this legislation passed. In fact, Shifty Shorten can stay true to his word, by doing exactly what he said he would do and remain on the unity ticket he said he was on. It is Shifty Shorten that is now changing away from that unity ticket and is creating the political uncertainty which West Australians are sick of.



JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)



GREG HUNT:

Yes, I do. I agree.



JOURNALIST:

Minister Hunt, just another issue: there’s more reports out today about the prevalence of Russian spy cyber hacking. Are you concerned about the protections around the My Health Record (inaudible)?



GREG HUNT:

No, actually we have military-grade security in relation to that. It is the strongest possible and I have to say, we’ve gone six years, six million patients, and it’s been operating without incident. It’s as strong as I think it could possibly be, although we are always looking to ensure that there’s additional strength.



JOURNALIST:

Stronger than the NHS that didn’t hold up very well in the UK a couple of months ago?



GREG HUNT:

Oh, I think that the proof is that we’ve had six years, six million patients, and a record which has protected the data of all of those patients.



Okay, thank you.



(ENDS)