Medicines can contribute to the quality of life of Australians by curing or relieving the symptoms of illness. They can also prevent complications in existing health conditions or delay the onset of disease.
The Australian Government Department of Health implements Australia’s National Medicines Policy in partnership with state and territory governments, medicines industry, healthcare professionals and consumers. The objectives of the policy are:
- timely access to the medicines that Australians need, at a cost that individuals and the community can afford
- medicines meeting appropriate standards of quality, safety and efficacy
- quality use of medicines
- maintaining a responsible and viable medicines industry.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration plays a key role in the implementation of the National Medicines Policy by maintaining the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG). Therapeutic goods must be entered in the ARTG before they can be lawfully supplied in, imported into, or exported from Australia, unless exempt. Medicines, including prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines, are defined as therapeutic goods and hence must be included in the ARTG.
As part of the National Medicines Policy, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) is the key mechanism for providing Australians with reliable, timely and affordable access to a wide range of medicines. Under the PBS, the government subsidises the cost of medicines for most medical conditions where medications must meet the criteria for PBS listing, such as clinical and cost effectiveness. Most of the listed medicines are dispensed by pharmacists and used by patients at home. Some medicines, because of their clinical use and other special features, need medical supervision (such as chemotherapy drugs) and are only accessible at specialised medical services, usually hospitals.
Medicines can be obtained in a number of ways including:
- via a prescription provided by a general practitioner (GP), medical specialist or other health practitioner
- to admitted patients in hospital
- purchased over the counter from community pharmacies or other outlets (such as supermarkets).
Presently a complete data source for all medicines dispensed is not available.
The information presented on this page focuses on medicines provided under the PBS and the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS). Typically, PBS and RPBS listed medicines are dispensed through community pharmacies, but are also available through private hospitals, and public hospitals participating in Pharmaceutical Reform Arrangements (enabling the supply of PBS medicines to patients on discharge from hospital, and non-admitted or day-admitted patients in all jurisdictions except New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory), or through other arrangements such as the Remote Area Aboriginal Health Services.
The PBS and the RPBS are Australian Government Health programs that subsidise the cost of a wide range of medicines in Australia. The PBS is available to current Medicare card holders as well as to overseas visitors from countries with Reciprocal Health Care Agreements with Australia and the RPBS is only available for Department of Veterans’ Affairs Health card holders.
The PBS began in 1948 and has expanded over time. As at 30 June 2021, 906 different medicines in 5,380 brands, used to treat a wide range of health conditions, are listed on the Schedule of Pharmaceutical Benefits. The RPBS subsidises pharmaceuticals available under the PBS and additional medicines and items (for example, wound dressings) for eligible veterans, war widows and widowers, and their dependants.