Opening Address to New Zealand Medicines Strategy Workshop, 31 October 2014

  • Peter Dunne

Good morning and welcome to the New Zealand Medicines Strategy workshop. I am very pleased to open today’s workshop and to see so many familiar faces in the room.

This day will play a key role in the development of new areas for action under the Medicines Strategy. I would like to acknowledge the work of the Pharmaceutical Society, in particular Richard Townley, and the Ministry of Health in organising this event.

As you are all well aware, medicines play a central role in the health and independence of New Zealanders. Used in a safe and effective way, medicines can prevent ill health, treat illness, support self-management and enhance length and quality of life.

Used poorly, medicines can be a source of waste in the system, compromise quality and safety and even result in unnecessary death. Over 40 million subsidised prescription medicines are dispensed in New Zealand every year. Without medicines, the health system as we know it quite simply would not exist.

The Medicines Strategy

The Government’s Medicines Strategy, Medicines New Zealand, provides the overarching framework to govern the regulation, procurement, management and use of medicines in New Zealand. Since the Strategy was released in 2007, a great deal has been achieved. This progress and an ever-evolving landscape means that the time is now right for the next iteration in actioning the Strategy.

The three core outcomes for the medicines system set out in the strategy are:

  • quality medicines that are safe and effective
  • access to the medicines New Zealanders need, regardless of their individual ability to pay and within government funding provided;
  • optimal use of medicines, resulting in optimal health outcomes.

Today’s workshop is focused on finding new ways to achieve these three outcomes, which will remain unchanged.

Achievements to date

Since its release the Medicines Strategy has been supported by an Action Plan which sets out a range of activities aimed at delivering these outcomes. The Action Plan was first released in 2007 and then updated in 2009. The majority of the 25 actions under the current Action Plan have been completed or have become business as usual.

The New Zealand Formulary has been established, pharmacovigilance activity has been enhanced and there have been changes to who can prescribe prescription medicines. Pharmacy prescribers are now a reality and their work contributes to more integrated care and better health outcomes for New Zealanders.

At the same time, the classification of a greater number of medicines outside the strict rules for prescription medicines has expanded the role of non-prescribing pharmacists. Pharmacist vaccinators are now able to provide meningococcal and pertussis vaccines alongside influenza. Women are able to access trimethoprim direct from an accredited pharmacist under certain criteria.

In many respects New Zealand pharmacists are world leaders in this area.

The Government is investing in IT systems that make it easier for patients and providers to access health information and to support safe and effective use of medicines. Patient Portals are rolling out nationally to support New Zealanders to access their own health information. This will allow patients to book appointments, order repeat medications and view their clinical information online, at any time of the day.

A new NHI system to improve the allocation and maintenance of patient NHI information was introduced in 2013. Since then, the creation of duplicate NHI numbers has reduced to less than one percent. We are also making good progress implementing electronic prescribing systems in hospitals and the community.

All of these achievements have strengthened the foundation of our system and provide a safer and more efficient medicines environment for New Zealanders.

Time for a new approach

In order to build on this success, a more strategic, outcomes focused approach to actioning the Medicines Strategy is required. We need to coordinate medicines-related activity better and focus on the areas where extra effort and visibility will make the biggest impact.

I have termed the aspects of the medicines system with the potential to deliver the greatest benefits ‘impact areas’. In May this year Cabinet endorsed this more strategic approach and agreed that impact areas be developed.

Impact areas

Impact areas, and new actions under them, will capitalise on progress to date and will not replace the need for government agencies and health organisations to continue to work towards the strategy outcomes as part of their core business. There will need to be actions developed under each impact area. These could potentially relate to co-ordinating the large amount of existing medicines-related initiatives more effectively, or supporting existing initiatives to realise their full potential.

It is expected that actions will be delivered by a range of health professionals working together to achieve patient-centred outcomes. This will also help to ensure that action is integrated and supportive of related activity across the health system.


Health professionals are the face of the medicines system and are crucial to achieving the outcomes of the Strategy. Each patient interaction offers an opportunity to improve the health and overall experience of care for that person. To this end, there are a range of initiatives underway across the sector that impact on professional roles and scopes of practice. These initiatives need to be understood and supported by all professional groups to achieve the desired improvements in New Zealanders’ health outcomes.

The pharmacy profession has undergone arguably the most extensive change to its role and scope in recent years. This is largely due to changes to the Community Pharmacy Service and Funding model and the classification of medicines. Both have contributed to the change in way pharmacists deliver medicines and services to people in the community. Pharmacy is diverse and its scope of practice is broad. By better utilising the skills of professional groups such as pharmacists, new and innovative ways of meeting the needs of New Zealanders will emerge.

I expect this workshop will make significant progress towards identifying a clear pathway for achieving the most from New Zealand’s pharmaceutical sector and wider medicines system.

Objective of today

The objective of today’s workshop is to identify and develop impact areas for the next three to five years which will deliver a patient-centred medicines system that maximises health gains for New Zealanders.

Following the workshop, the prioritisation and selection of the impact areas and actions will be informed by criteria that take into account matters such as disparity, value for resources and timeliness, as well as fit with the outcomes of the medicines strategy and wider government priorities. I expect to present preferred impact areas and advice on implementation to Cabinet in early 2015.

In closing, I would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here today. Your experience of the issues and concerns faced by the sector and New Zealanders is vital to inform both the development of the key impact areas and their implementation.

I urge you to make the most of this opportunity to influence the next phase of the Medicines Strategy and wish you the very best for a productive and informative day.