New medicines for Australians with multiple sclerosis, lymphoma, carcinoma and reproductive cancers

From 1 November, the Morrison Government will invest more than $86 million over the next four years to provide greater access to life saving medicines for Australians living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and various forms of cancer.

MS is the most commonly acquired neurological disease in younger adults with over 25,600 Australians living with multiple sclerosis and over 2.3 million people affected globally.

The average age of diagnosis is only 30 and around 75% of those affected with multiple sclerosis in Australia are female.

There is a high clinical need for effective treatments for patients with progressive forms of relapse onset multiple sclerosis.

Mayzent® (siponimod) will be listed on the PBS for the first time to treat those patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.

Without PBS subsidy, these patients would pay more than $25,000 per year for treatment with approximately 800 patients benefiting from this listing each year.

The PBS subsidy now means patients will only need to pay $41 per prescription, or $6.60 with a concession card.

In addition to this listing, Australians diagnosed with a rare type of lymphoma which affects the skin will receive subsidised access to a new medication and specialised treatment from 1 November 2020 through an investment of over $11.5 million.

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that affects the skin and causes an accumulation of malignant T-cells in the skin, resulting in raised, rash-like or itchy patches of skin, skin lumps or ulcers and swollen lymph nodes.

Uvadex® (methoxsalen) will be listed on the PBS for the first time for treatment of patients with erythrodermic cutaneous T-cell lymphoma who have not responded to other treatments.

Around 75 patients per year may benefit from this listing. Without PBS subsidy, these Australians would pay more than $3,400 per year.

Concurrently, two new items will be introduced on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) for the use of extracorporeal photopheresis (ECP) in combination with Uvadex® to treat the condition, as recommended by the Medical Services Advisory Committee.

ECP is a type of treatment that involves attaching a patient to a machine that removes some of their blood. The machine separates the white blood cells, and the red blood cells and plasma go back into the body. The white blood cells are mixed with Uvadex®, exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, then put back into the patient. ECP activates the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer.

Other PBS listings from 1 November ­– announced in the Budget 2020-21 – include the expanded listing of:

  • Tecentriq® and Avastin® (atezolizumab and bevacizumab) for use in combination to treat patients with advanced unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of primary liver cancer. An average of 500 patients per year may benefit from this. They would normally pay up to $170,000 for a course of treatment without PBS subsidy
  • Lynparza® (olaparib) for the treatment of newly diagnosed advanced high grade epithelial ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancers. An average of 300 patients per year may benefit from this listing and would normally pay around $140,500 per course of treatment for this medicine.

These PBS listings have been recommended by the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.

Since 2013, the Australian Government has approved over 2,450 new or amended listings on the PBS.

This represents an average of around 30 listings or amendments per month – or one each day – at an overall investment by the Government of $11.8 billion.

The Morrison Government’s commitment to ensuring that Australians can access affordable medicines, when they need them, remains rock solid.

Pandemic leave disaster payment for Queensland workers

Queenslanders who can’t earn an income because they must self-isolate or quarantine, or are caring for someone with COVID-19 can now access support with a $1500 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment.

The Australian Government has extended Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment arrangements to include Queensland following agreement with the Queensland Government.

The $1500 lump sum Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment is already available in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and Western Australia.

If an individual is instructed by a health official to self-isolate or quarantine, and has used up all appropriate leave entitlements, including any special pandemic leave, they may be eligible for the payment. They may also be eligible if they’re the parent or guardian of a child aged 16 or under who has been instructed to isolate as they are a close contact or has tested positive for COVID-19, or they are caring for someone with COVID-19.

In line with arrangements with other states, Queensland workers will not be eligible for the payment if they are receiving income, earnings or salary maintenance from work, receiving JobKeeper Payment or other forms of Australian or Queensland Government income support.

To date, more than $15.5 million in Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments has been paid for some 10,300 granted claims since 6 August.

The fastest and easiest way to make a claim is over the phone by calling 180 22 66. Please do not visit a service centre.

More information is available at www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/disaster.

Pandemic leave disaster payment for South Australia

The Australian Government has extended Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment arrangements in place with Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania following agreement with the South Australian Government. The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment is a lump sum payment to help an individual during the 14 day self-isolation, quarantine or caring period.

The agreement will see the Commonwealth Government extend the $1,500 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment to South Australian workers who cannot earn an income because they must self-isolate, quarantine or care for someone with COVID-19.

If an individual is instructed by a health official to self-isolate or quarantine, and they have used up all appropriate leave entitlements, including any special pandemic leave, they may be eligible to make a claim. They may also be eligible if they’re the parent or guardian of a child aged 16 or under who has been instructed to isolate as they are a close contact or has tested positive for COVID-19, or they’re caring for someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

In line with arrangements with other states, South Australian workers will not be eligible for the payment if they are receiving income, earnings or salary maintenance from work, receiving the JobKeeper Payment or other forms of Australian Government income support, or receive a Pandemic Leave payment from the South Australian Government.

The payment can be claimed again should an extended self-isolation or quarantine period longer than 14 days be instructed by health officials, or their period of caring is extended.

To date, more than $15.5 million in Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments have been paid for more than 10,300 granted claims since 6 August.

The fastest and easiest way to make a claim is over the phone by calling 180 22 66. Please do not visit a service centre.

PLUM and HATS helping to save Indigenous kids hearing

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families are being encouraged to use an Australian Government toolkit to ensure young children are meeting their milestones for hearing and speaking.

The Australian Government has made ending avoidable deafness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children a priority, with their rates of hearing loss and ear disease significantly higher than the non-Indigenous population.

Between 2018–19 and 2022–23, almost $104.6 million will be provided for ear health initiatives to reduce the number of Indigenous Australians suffering avoidable hearing loss, and give Indigenous children a better start to education.

The Parent-evaluated Listening and Understanding Measure (PLUM) and the Hearing and Talking Scale (HATS) have been developed by Hearing Australia in collaboration with Aboriginal health and early education services.

As part of a $21.2 million package of funding over five years from 2020-21 to advance hearing health in Australia, the 2020–21 Budget includes an additional $5 million to support early identification of hearing and speech difficulties for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and embed the use of PLUM and HATS Australia-wide.

Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services will be able to access $2 million from that funding, through the Service Maintenance Program, to establish quiet spaces that can be used for audiology assessments.

PLUM and HATS uses questionnaires that help parents and carers, early childhood educators and health professionals to screen for hearing and communication difficulties in young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and ensure action can be taken to address problems early.

The Australian Government has also provided $30 million for diagnostic hearing assessments and follow-up treatment for Indigenous Australian children in the years before starting school. The resulting Hearing Assessment Program – Early Ears (HAP-EE), also delivered by Hearing Australia, was co-designed with the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health sector and other stakeholders.

HAP-EE was initially focussed on rural and remote areas, and more than 3,100 diagnostic hearing assessments in 93 communities have been conducted from when it began in 2019 to September 2020. The program will be expanded to metro areas by the end of the year.

Other ongoing initiatives include the Healthy Ears Program providing a range of clinical ear health services for Indigenous children and youth, including ear nose and throat (ENT) and speech pathology. Funding is also available to deliver access to culturally safe surgery, streamline care pathways, train health professionals, supply equipment and provide the Care for Kids’ Ears health promotion resources.

More information about PLUM and HATS is available online – https://plumandhats.nal.gov.au

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families can also call 134 432 to have their child’s hearing assessed. Hearing Australia is offering appointments in many Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, in its hearing centres and via teleservice.

Mates investigating mates shows ICAC needed

Revelations that the Finance Department inquiry into Assistant Minister Michael Sukkar was outsourced to the law firm he used to work for is further proof Australia urgently needs a federal corruption watchdog, Greens say.

Greens Leader in the Senate and spokesperson for Democracy, Senator Larissa Waters, said:

“This is just another outrageous example of why we need an independent federal corruption watchdog. Mates investigating mates won’t stop corruption.

“Not only is the Prime Minister choosing not to investigate whether Mr Michael Sukkar breached Ministerial Standards, but now we’ve learnt the Finance Department administrative inquiry into the Assistant Treasurer was outsourced to the very law firm he used to work for.

“The government cannot be trusted to properly scrutinise its own Ministers and is doing all it can to delay setting up a watchdog with teeth that will hold their dodgy dealings to account.

“Just this morning, the Attorney General’s Department revealed an exposure draft of the Government’s bill for a federal integrity body has been sitting in the Attorney General’s inbox since December 2019. And yet the Government is still peddling the excuse that the pandemic has slowed them down.

“After two years of excuses and promises of draft laws being “imminent” and “soon”, it’s clear that the government just doesn’t want a watchdog, and perhaps that’s because with every passing week there is a new scandal.”

ADF must own & address allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan

Australian Greens Peace and Disarmament spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John said allegations by American Marines that Australian special forces shot and killed a prisoner because there was no room for them on a helicopter were disgraceful and appalling.

“These allegations, if proven to be true, are war crimes and the individuals responsible must face the full weight of the law for their actions,” Steele-John said.

“When you have American Marines and the Drug Enforcement Agency saying they don’t want to work with Australian special forces because of their alleged criminal behaviour then you know that something is very seriously wrong.

“This is clearly a much larger problem then just the individuals involved in this case, and the many others that have surfaced over the last few months. What we are beginning to see emerge here is a sinister cultural problem within our defence forces that must be investigated, owned and addressed.

“Australians expect that our defence forces will act respectfully, and lawfully, when undertaking operations in foreign conflict zones in our name. If that is not the case, then we deserve to know.”

Govt’s Arts and Entertainment Rescue Package Unspent

Not a single dollar of the $250m arts and entertainment package the PM announced with Guy Sebastian four months ago has been spent, the Department has revealed under questioning by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young at Senate Estimates today.

“The Morrison Government has failed the arts and entertainment industry. The fact not a single dollar of this so-called rescue package has gone to an artist or creative four months after the announcement is a kick in the guts,” Greens Spokesperson for the Arts Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.

“The arts and entertainment industry was shutdown overnight in March and has been the second hardest hit with job losses, yet the PM didn’t even put money on the table for it until June and now still hasn’t spent a cent.

“The Prime Minister was excited to be sharing the stage with Guy Sebastian, but despite the fanfare nothing been delivered. Again Scott Morrison is all sizzle and no sausage.

“It’s hardly coming to the rescue if eight months after being hit by Covid19 restrictions the industry is still waiting for support. It’s like promising a struggling swimmer a lifebuoy and not throwing it out till their too weak to hold onto it.

“The Morrison Government has shown nothing but contempt for the arts. We know he prefers footy, but he should also value a $112bn contribution to our economy and the benefits for other sectors likes hospitality and tourism.

“The PM should be ensuring the $250 money gets out the door immediately, and then quadrupling it so the industry worth so much to our economy, culture and social fabric, has a chance of survival.”

$13.6 million to support the mental health of new and expectant parents

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the incidence and severity of perinatal depression and anxiety. Since March 2020, the number of new callers to the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) helpline has doubled. 43% of all calls to the PANDA helpline come from Victoria.

The Morrison Government is supporting expectant and new parents providing $13.6 million through our $43.9 million Perinatal Mental Health and Wellbeing Program to extend vital national perinatal mental health services.

Almost 100,000 Australian parents are affected by perinatal depression and anxiety each year. One in 10 women experience this while pregnant and one in seven in the year after birth. Men can also experience perinatal mental illness, with about one in 10 expectant and new fathers experiencing depression, anxiety or other forms of emotional distress.

Callers to the helpline are also presenting with more intense and enduring mental illness with call times rising from 15 to 30 minutes prior to COVID-19 to 30 to 45 minutes.

In May our Government provided $320,000 additional funding for the PANDA helpline and in September a further $350,000 in funding to ensure that the helpline is able to meet the increased demand from parents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in Victoria.

The $13.6 million in additional funding will ensure that PANDA and other key national programs will continue to support women and their families affected by perinatal mental illness, or experiencing grief after the death of a child during this challenging period.

Dedicated perinatal mental health support, perinatal loss and bereavement peer support, and perinatal mental health promotion and training will be delivered by trusted organisations right across Australia. This will complement the work being done by Primary Health Networks in ensuring tailored local mental health services are available on-the-ground in every community.

The new program will extend funding for existing national perinatal mental health and wellbeing services including:

  • PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression helpline
  • Red Nose’s helpline and peer support
  • Sand’s helpline and peer support
  • the MumSpace website (www.mumspace.com.au) which hosts the MumMoodBooster treatment program and the MindMum smartphone app

This funding builds on the $1.3 million delivered to Sands Australia for an intensive support service to families affected by stillbirth, as well as $3 million for national education and awareness programs to demystify stillbirth and reduce its incidence announced last year.

The Morrison Government continues to prioritise better mental health for all Australians, with an unprecedented $5.7 billion to be spent on mental health in 2020–21.

Steps toward better mental health for young Australians

The Australian Government is ensuring the mental health and wellbeing of young people remains a priority during a challenging time.

Today marks National headspace Day – an initiative aimed at helping youth take small steps every day to improve their mental health.

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt and Minister for Youth and Sport, Richard Colbeck, encouraged young people to take time out for themselves.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the lives of young people across Australia,” Minister Hunt said.

“Whether you are struggling to focus on study, have lost a job or finding it difficult to connect with others – there are professional teams and services like headspace available to offer support.”

There are currently 124 headspace services in Australia and many are planning headspace Day events and celebrations.

Since 2006, headspace has provided more than 3.6 million services and supported more than 626,000 young Australians to strengthen their wellbeing and manage their mental health.

In 2019–20 alone, headspace supported nearly 130,000 young people.

In 2020–21, the Government is providing over $130 million to support headspace services across Australia, and has also committed to expand the headspace network to 153 services by 2022.

Minister Colbeck said every year one in four young Australians experienced mental health issues.

“More than ever many young people are facing family or relationship conflict, a disconnection from study and work, financial stress and social isolation,” he said.

“During times like these, focusing on the everyday things that support a young person’s wellbeing helping them form healthy habits, develop resilience and manage stress or anxiety.

Minister Colbeck said the Government was also committed to ensuring the mental health of young people is maintained through provisions from the 2020-21 Budget.

“The Australian Government has invested an unprecedented $5.7 billion in mental health support in 2020-21 alone,” Minister Colbeck said.

The support builds on the ongoing work to develop a whole-of-government National Youth Policy Framework to inform how policies and programs support young Australians and improve their lives.

For more information on the headspace Day and how to be involved, along with digital wellbeing kits, visit www.headspace.org.au.

Follow headspace on social media and share your favourite tip using #headspacetips and #headspaceday.

Attorney General Impeding the work of the Disability Royal Commission

Australian Greens Disability spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John said today it was unacceptable that the Attorney General would not introduce privacy protections to the Disability Royal Commission, garuanteeing witnesses confidentiality beyond the life of the Commission, until mid-next year.

“This is a simple legislative fix that would be universally supported by the Australian Parliament, and the Attorney General has had at least 8 months to get it done! There is simply no excuse for forcing disabled people to wait any longer to feel safe to tell their stories,” Steele-John said.

“I have a bill before the Senate right now which could be passed in the upcoming November sitting.

“The Attorney General knows full well that his failure to act urgently is an impediment to the Royal Commission; the deliberate and ongoing delay amounts to a moral obstruction of justice.

“To be able to properly investigate violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect the Royal Commission must be able to protect witnesses including, and especially, disabled people and other individuals who want to blow the whistle on institutions, service providers and government agencies.

“Disability Royal Commission Chair Ronald Sackville AO QC wrote to the Attorney General in February formally asking him to change the law, and in the Royal Commission’s second progress report, released earlier this month, the Chair dedicated an entire section (page 37) to the limitations this issue was placing on the scope of the Royal Commission.
“So many people in our community have lost all faith in the system because of the violence, abuse, exploitation or neglect they, or their family, have suffered; they want to know that it is safe to tell their stories.

“By delaying these important privacy protections until mid-2021 the Attorney General is impeding the ability of the Royal Commission to do its job and he is failing disabled people.”