• Open Access

Improving access to medicines among clients of remote area Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Services


Dr Margaret Kelaher, Program Evaluation Unit, School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Carlton, Victoria 3010. Fax: (03) 9348 1174; e-mail: mkelaher@unimelb.edu.au


Despite unequivocally worse health, expenditure on Indigenous people through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) is considerably less than for other Australians. We report on the effectiveness of a program to supply PBS medicines to remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Services (ATSIHSs) under section 100 (s.100) of the National Health Act 1953.

The program: Under the special PBS arrangements (SPBSAs), approved ATSIHSs are able to order PBS medicine in bulk through local pharmacies and supply them as needed to patients on-site. The usual co-payment associated with PBS medicine is not charged and the pharmacist remuneration structure is different.

Methods: The project involved consultation with the evaluation reference group and other stakeholders at all stages. There were six main data collection components: public submissions; interviews with government and other key stakeholders; pharmacist survey; medicine utilisation and expenditure data; national ATSIHS minimum dataset; and case studies of ATSIHSs.

Results: These SPBSA potentially benefit 36% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. They have resulted in improved access to much-needed medicines, representing an increase of $36.5 million in expenditure on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through the PBS between 2000/01 and 2002/03. They have further ensured that $8.3 million of State and Territory expenditure formerly directed at medicine can be spent on prevention and primary care.

Conclusion: Overall, the SPBSAs have been very successful and demonstrates an effective model for the development of Indigenous health policy.