It’s an election year and effective advocacy is vital. The Pharmacy Guild of Australia share their tactics in advocating for affordable medicines.

As any nonprofit campaigner worth their salt knows, an election year provides immense opportunity for advocacy and change, particularly within government policy, as all sides of politics look towards key platform positions and policies that can help them win an election. With this comes an immense amount of noise; traditional media, digital media, all forms of advertising – everyone is clamouring for the spotlight to ensure their message is heard, and their campaign cuts through to their target audiences. In short, it can be difficult to get a word in edgeways. ‘Affordable Medicines Now’, a campaign run by The Pharmacy Guild of Australia (PGA), however, is attempting to do just that.

The issue

As COVID-19 has shown, healthcare is a major issue for Australians, particularly in respect to accessibility, affordability and quality of care. In early 2022, independent research commissioned by the PGA revealed an issue that many of us are all too aware of; that prescriptions medicines are becoming unaffordable for a significant proportion of the country.

Some of the figures are simply shocking; not only do 25% of survey respondents claim that prescription medicines are difficult to afford, but 13% say they are unable to afford their medicines at all. This reinforced findings from a previous survey from the Australian Patients Association, which found that 20% of people aged 18 to 64 say they find prescription medicines unaffordable. To add to the mounting evidence, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 900,000 Australians had delayed or did not fill a prescription due to cost in 2019/20.

The problem is clear; the rising cost of living, coupled with increasing out-of-pocket costs for prescription medicines, is forcing millions of Australians to choose between their health and other essentials. This simply cannot be allowed to continue.

The campaign

As the national peak employer body for the pharmacy profession, the PGA has heard from their members right across the country about how the issue of medicine affordability is hurting those in their community. The National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Professor Trent Twomey, has seen firsthand the devastating choices people are forced to make, “I see mothers in my pharmacy forced to choose which child gets the medicines prescribed by the doctor or not filling their own scripts because there’s nothing left in the budget.”

With the support of community pharmacists right across the country, the PGA launched Affordable Medicines Now in January 2022 – a campaign seeking to convince the government to cut the cost of prescription medicines.

“As community pharmacists, we are raising the alarm. When medicines become unaffordable, it means there is no real universal access to the PBS – the foundation of our health system,” says Professor Twomey.

What has followed since the campaign launch is a tremendous amount of engagement from Australians all over the country, a clear sign that this issue resonates with people from all walks of life.

Getting the community to act

Beginning with a website, affordablemedicines.com.au, the campaign has expanded across a multitude of media, from traditional print and radio advertising to social media and on-demand television, pushing the message of more affordable medicines into homes across Australia. So far, it is having a huge impact.

Less than two weeks after launching a petition, it has received over 5,000 signatures, and over 500 letters have been sent directly to Federal Members of Parliament. Comments received online have been even more illuminating, with thousands flocking to social media to share their experiences with unaffordable prescription medicines.

One commenter writes, “What is my insulin going to cost now? And my blood pressure tablets? As it is, I already pay $200 per month, and don’t qualify for a pension as my husband earns slightly too much. I don’t have any super left, every small increase to my medications costs hurts.”

It seems the campaign has already sparked significant interest, but now comes the hard part.

Getting cut through

With the Government still yet to officially call a federal election, political parties, unions and charitable organisations alike are still holding off from earnestly entering campaign mode. However once they do, the landscape will become a lot more crowded. Despite this, the PGA believes its campaign can cut through effectively because of some key factors. By being early and laying the groundwork to raise awareness, by advocating on an issue that already has strong public interest and by providing a tangible government ask, they feel the Affordable Medicines Now campaign will continue to remain relevant and engage Australians throughout the election, leading to real change.

 

To learn more about the Affordable Medicines Now campaign, visit affordablemedicines.com.au

To register for PGA and F&P’s free webinar – ‘Winning advocacy and how to achieve at it your nonprofit’ on Thursday 31 March, click here.

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