Home' Australian Pharmacist : Australian Pharmacist May 2013 Contents 18 Australian Pharmacist May 2013 I ©Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Ltd.
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Putting the squeeze
By Michael O'Neill, Chief Executive National Seniors Australia
In an election year, politicians do better if
they don't ignore people, particularly the
most vulnerable, and it would be difficult
to argue that struggling disability and age
pensioners are not vulnerable.
As well as having to cope with the
price hikes for basic necessities such as
electricity, many also have to contend with
another big and increasingly common
problem: venous leg ulcers (VLU).
As well as being painful and ugly, VLUs
are expensive to treat and can affect the
sufferer's mobility, which often leads to
social isolation and depression.
Last month, the KPMG Health Economics
report An economic evaluation of
compression therapy for venous leg ulcers
found that around 42,600 people aged 60
and over have at least one VLU at any time.
The Australian Wound Management
Association (AWMA), the peak body
for nurses, doctors and allied health
professionals involved in wound
management, supplied information and
documentation for the study.
While the AWMA estimates that as
many as 300,000 Australians currently
suffer chronic wounds requiring
management, the government subsidies
for compression therapy (CT) available
in other countries, such as the United
Kingdom, are not available in Australia.
AWMA National President Bill McGuiness
said this was despite the fact that
Australian government subsidies are
available for other common conditions
such as incontinence and diabetes.
National Seniors knows well that many
vulnerable older people have enough to
worry about just getting by for now, let
alone how they will finance treatment of
their VLU for months on end.
So, instead of having their ulcers regularly
dressed by health professionals using
compression therapy bandages and
stockings, an increasing number of
cash-strapped seniors are choosing to do it
themselves or go without to save money.
The result is a less than optimal outcome
for their VLU which fails to heal, and the
patient ends up costing the taxpayer
more through repeated admissions to
hospital or extended care from GPs and
Wound care accounts for up to 80% of
community nursing treatments and three
of the top five procedures performed by
Surely it would be cheaper in the first place
for the government to subsidise the cost of
CT to keep VLU patients out of hospital and
in extended community care?
While the 14 September election is still
some way off, the election year budget of
14 May is fast approaching.
In its federal budget submission,
National Seniors has called on the
Government for an item in the
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to cover
the cost of wound management dressings
for holders of the Pensioner Concession
and Commonwealth Seniors Health Cards.
The estimated cost for this would be
$17.5 million per month.
Based on a three month treatment,
the cost per year could be around
$52.5 million. Some would say that is
not cheap, but it is a drop in the bucket
compared with the alternative.
Estimates vary widely but the KPMG
report says VLU patients spend between
$37 and $45 each week for compression
therapy -- a huge outlay for a single
pensioner whose income is around
$404 per week.
That's also an alarming thought for
people who have just been diagnosed
with VLU, particularly if they have
co-morbidities, some of which incur costs
of hundreds of dollars a month.
Like an untended wound, their situation
will only get worse unless prompt and
appropriate action is taken. The AWMA
says venous leg wounds take nearly twice
as long to mend if not treated properly
But it's not all bad news. The KPMG study
also showed the nation could save $166
million a year if VLU patients received the
compression treatment they needed within
the best practice timeframe of 12 weeks.
The average cost per patient in 2012--13
for non-CT treatment was estimated to
be $10,743 per patient, compared to an
estimated $3,883 when using CT. Although
the actual cost per wound varies from
state to state, the national average cost per
wound treated with CT was only $2,926.
That's a difference of nearly $8,000.
You don't have to be a mathematical
genius to see it's more cost-effective to
use CT than not use it.
But will the government see it that way or
will it again cry poor, particularly when it
comes to health?
Those with VLU and not in aged care but
who want to remain living in their own
homes are looking to the government
to give them a little help in next
If the help is not forthcoming, the votes
won't be either.
knows well that many
vulnerable older people
have enough to worry
about just getting
by for now, let alone
how they will finance
treatment of their VLU
for months on end.'
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