(Note from Melissa Sweet on 24 May: See bottom of post for a comment by Professor Andrew Wilson on his appointment).

Health Minister Sussan Ley today announced the appointment of Professor Andrew Wilson as the new Chair of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC), the independent expert body whose primary role is to recommend new medicines for listing on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

In a statement, the Minister also announced that new legislation would be introduced shortly that would “seek to streamline the operations of the PBAC in recognition of an increasing workload of complex matters that the committee is regularly asked to consider.” She said:

“The new legislation will propose to increase the PBAC membership from 18 to 21, to create a new Deputy Chair position and to increase flexibility for the appointments to both the Chair and the Deputy Chair positions could be made on either full-time or part-time basis.

“At the 2013 election the Abbott Government committed to improving the listing process of drugs on the PBS,” Ms Ley said.

“Expanding the capacity of the PBAC to deal with complex medicines is another important step to ensure Australians benefit from new medicines sooner.”

Croakey has been struggling in recent weeks to get information on the appointment of the new PBAC Chair, following the resignation of Dr Suzanne Hill in March.

In a statement in February, Health Minister Sussan Ley paid tribute to Hill and said the “process to identify a new Chair has commenced”. Asked about the process, a spokeswoman for the Health Department told Croakey on 5 May that an announcement on the appointment of a new Chair would be made “soon” but did not respond to queries about whether the position had been advertised or expressions of interest called. The Minister’s office today referred questions about the process back to the department.

One source, who did not want to be named, recently told Croakey – before today’s announcement that Professor Wilson had been chosen – that there was concern over a lack of transparency over the selection of Hill’s replacement, including whether there had been an open call for applications or formal selection process:

The importance of this position can’t be overstated and it deserves a thoughtful and properly conducted selection process that considers the best candidates from around the world. The job requires scientific skills of a high order, diplomacy ( to manage the department, the Minister, the consumers and industry) people skills ( to lead the committee with good grace) and PR skills to manage the blowback.

In her statement today, Ley said Professor Wilson is a highly respected medical specialist in the area of cardiovascular disease. He holds senior academic positions with the Menzies Institute at Sydney University and previously at universities in Queensland.  He also served in a number of senior positions in the health departments of those states.  He has firsthand experience on the workings of the PBAC having served a number of years ago as a member of the committee.

“I look forward to Professor Wilson’s work to provide Government with high-quality advice on the comparative effectiveness and cost of medicines subsidised on the PBS and vaccines on the National Immunisation Programme (NIP), and to continue to enhance the transparency of the PBAC process and the patients input into the PBAC’s deliberations,” Ms Ley said.

“Professor Wilson will also lead the recently announced review of the PBAC’s methodological guidelines for the preparation of applications to incorporate international best practice and remove any unnecessary regulatory burden on the pharmaceutical industry while safeguarding the efficiency and effectiveness of the PBS.”

Ley said Wilson will continue to lead the current post-market review of the Life Saving Drugs Programme (LSDP) which is nearing its completion, prior to taking up his new appointment as the Chair of the PBAC at the July 2015 meeting.

Two additional appointments to the PBAC were also announced today: Dr Peter Grimison, a medical oncologist at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in Sydney and Professor Jonathan Craig, Senior Staff Specialist at Children’s Hospital at Westmead.  Professor Craig is also a member of the Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC).  Both have been nominated by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP).

“The appointments of Dr Grimison and Professor Craig and their specific expertise reflect the growing number of applications for cancer and other complex treatments, as well as the need to continue to strengthen the alignment between PBAC and MSAC for complex technologies”, Ley said.

All appointments are for a four-year period.

***

Comment from Professor Andrew Wilson

Obviously it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the Government’s recruitment and selection processes. I was approached sometime after the previous chair Sue Hill indicated she was taking up the position back at WHO.

I was not looking for a new job as I am very fortunate in being able to combine my passion for improving the Australian health care system and research between my roles as the Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy and the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre.

Having been approached, I looked at the challenges and opportunities that the position will have to deal with. This is an exciting time in the development of new medicines. The targeting of therapies based on different effectiveness in different patient groups is not new but the ability to do this more precisely based genomic or other ‘omic’ characteristics is going to present new challenges in health technology assessment.

There are new therapies becoming available for chronic diseases for which there has traditionally been no real options and if accepted for subsidy will increase health expenditure in the immediate term. Sometimes the overall benefits and costs are not yet clear and this possibly requires different ways of thinking about how access might be achieved.

My role as chair of the advisory group to the post marketing review of the Life Saving Drugs Program (LSDP) has also given me some fresh insights into both these challenges as well as the importance of the PBS and the LSDP to patients in accessing medicines in affair way. I am also chair of the Protocol Advisory Subcommittee of the Medical Services Advisory Committee where we regularly deal with co-dependent technologies. The review of the PBAC submission guidelines announced by the Minister will need to tackle these matters.

So I could see a challenge and opportunity that excited me in some ways similar to what led to my taking up a position in Queensland Health following the Bundaberg Hospital/Dr Patel inquiries.

I know from my previous roles on PBAC and my friendship with both previous chairs that it is a demanding role. However, I believe there is scope for different ways of doing the role, and that allowing for part time appointments in future will give Government more flexibility and make the position possible for a wider group of potential candidates. However, the PBAC processes can’t be held up awaiting the potential uncertainties of the parliamentary processes, so I have agreed to proceed with the position as is. Informally I was notified last week that approval had been given to offer me the position.

 

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