Last week, from October 31 to November 1 2019, health ministers from the Commonwealth, New Zealand and each State and Territory of Australia met in Perth for the COAG Health Council Meeting to discuss a range of pressing national health issues. The meeting was chaired by the Western Australian Minister for Health and Mental Health, the Hon. Roger Cook.

At the meeting, health ministers agreed to make the Quality Use of Medicines (QUM) and medicines safety the10th National Health Priority Area. The appointment of medicines safety as the National Health Priority Area comes after the Federal Health Minister, the Hon. Greg Hunt pledged medicine safety as a priority at the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s (PSA) National Conference in July this year.

National Health Priority Areas are diseases and health conditions which have been given focused attention due to their significant contribution to the burden of illness and injury in Australia. Other appointed national health priority areas include; arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, asthma, cancer control, cardiovascular health, diabetes mellitus, injury prevention and control, mental health and obesity.

The Communiqué from the meeting highlights that medicines are one of the most common interventions in health care, and while they have considerable health benefits, there are risks associated with their use and misuse which have the ability to cause harm. Reducing medication-related harm will not only improve the overall health of Australians, but will also create savings across the healthcare system.

In January (2019) PSA released their ‘Medicine Safety: Take Care’ report. Shockingly, the report identifies that 250,000 hospital admissions annually are a result of medication-related problems and an additional 400,000 presentations to emergency departments are likely to be due to medication-related problems. These problems may include medication errors, inappropriate use, misadventure and drug interactions. Medicine misadventure costs Australia a staggering $1.4 billion annually.

At the COAG Health Council Meeting, health ministers agreed that the Australian Health Minister’s Advisory Council, in collaboration with agencies such as the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care and the Australian Digital Health Agency would provide a national baseline report identifying priority areas, best practice models and new national standards.

Read the full ‘Medicine Safety: Take Care’ report by the PSA here.