New arrangements for the prescribing and dispensing of medicines for people living with chronic hepatitis B (CHB) enable accredited GPs to initiate treatment for hepatitis B.
"We are very pleased with these changes to some of the PBS medicines under the Highly Specialised Drugs program," said A/Prof Ben Cowie, Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis at the Doherty Institute. "The new prescribing arrangements will enable General Practitioners to provide the full continuum of care for people living with hepatitis B, including initiation of treatment and patients can conveniently pick up their medicine in the community."
The changes will permit trained and accredited general practitioners to initiate people living with CHB onto to treatment. Currently, patients who are diagnosed with CHB are referred to a specialist for their antiviral treatment.
The changes will also permit pharmacies to dispense prescriptions for hepatitis B medicines that have been written after 1 July 2015 whether or not they are receiving treatment at or from a hospital. Under the new arrangements, patients may have these prescriptions dispensed from a community pharmacy or from a hospital pharmacy — the choice is up to the patient.
According to the Australian Government Department of Health, these changes will make it "easier for practitioners to prescribe and for patients to have their prescriptions dispensed, better reflecting current clinical practice where treatment is increasingly being provided in the community setting."
Australia's National Hepatitis B Strategy sets a treatment target of 15 per cent coverage of all people living with chronic hepatitis B with antiviral therapy, yet current uptake is only 5 per cent.
"We have a national target to triple the current uptake of hepatitis B treatment. These changes to the PBS will go a long way to improving access to antiviral treatment for people living with hepatitis B, in accordance with the National Hepatitis B Strategy," A/Prof Cowie said.
Sydney General Practitioner, Dr Chris An, also welcomed the change. "Being able to initiate antiviral treatment when required will keep my patients off lengthy public hospital waiting lists and improve their health outcomes. "
CHB affects more than 220,000 Australians. The large number of untreated hepatitis B cases in Australia is a major factor in rising rates of serious liver disease, including liver cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer, the latter of which is the most rapidly increasing cause of cancer deaths in the country.
The majority of people living with CHB are people born overseas in hepatitis B endemic areas such as Asia, the Pacific and Africa, as well as people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background.
"The distribution of these communities throughout Australia means many of those affected live within particular geographic areas. If accredited GPs practising in the higher-prevalence areas or rural areas are able to prescribe, then people will have better access to care and have a chance of actually getting onto treatment," said A/Prof Cowie.
"We have a very big Chinese and Vietnamese population here in Bankstown, therefore, I have a duty to my patients to be knowledgeable and upskilled in this area," said Dr An.
For information about becoming an accredited hepatitis B prescriber, please visit: http://www.ashm.org.au/HBV/prescriber-programs-hepb
Further information regarding community dispensing is available here: http://www.ashm.org.au/programs/community-pharmacy/hepatitis-b-dispensing
For further information on the prevalence and indicators of care for hepatitis B, see: http://www.ashm.org.au/HBV/more-about/hepatitis-b-mapping-project
ASHM is a peak organisation of health professionals in Australia and New Zealand who work in HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections. ASHM is involved in professional education and training; policy and advocacy; direct action and collaboration across the sector.
For further information or an interview, please contact:
Vanessa Towell, Program Manager
Phone: 02 8204 0762