Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Continued Dispensing Arrangements

Continued Dispensing is the supply of an eligible medicine to a person by an approved pharmacist, where there is an immediate need for the medicine but where it is not practicable to obtain a valid PBS prescription.  Under normal Continued Dispensing arrangements, only eligible oral contraceptives and lipid lowering medicines (statins) can be supplied under Continued Dispensing.  Only one supply of medicines can be provided in a 12 month period.

In response to the bushfire crisis and then the COVID pandemic, the Australian Government temporarily expanded these arrangements until 30 March 2021 through Continued Dispensing (Emergency Measures) which includes most PBS/RPBS medicines supplied through community pharmacies.

The Government has agreed to further extend the Continued Dispensing emergency arrangements until 31 December 2021 while COVID-19 continues to put pressure on our health resources.  This will continue to provide an additional option to support continuity of therapy for consumers who are unable to access their medical practitioner to obtain a valid prescription. 

These arrangements complement existing emergency supply provisions including “owing prescription” arrangements and the additional measures introduced by the Australian Government to help reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 (such as e-Prescribing, new MBS telehealth items).  These alternative provisions to obtain a PBS prescription should be considered before utilising Continued Dispensing arrangements.

Frequently Asked Questions

For Patients

What is Continued Dispensing?

Continued Dispensing is the supply of an eligible medicine to a person by an approved pharmacist, where there is an immediate need for the medicine but where it is not practicable to obtain a valid PBS prescription.  The supply of medicines under these arrangements is subject to a strict set of professional guidelines.  Only one supply of medicines can be provided under Continued Dispensing in a 12 month period.

What should I do if I have run out of my medicines and/or prescriptions and cannot see a doctor to obtain a new one?

If you are unable to see a medical practitioner face-to-face to obtain a prescription, you should check whether they can provide a telehealth appointment by either phone or video, and then send the script to you or your pharmacy. If they cannot, you should talk to a community pharmacist about other options. This does not have to be your usual pharmacist, but they may need to contact your usual pharmacist.

Do I have to see my doctor to get a follow-up prescription to give to the pharmacist under Continued Dispensing?

You do not need to obtain a follow-up prescription for medicines that are supplied under the Continued Dispensing arrangements.

What medicines can I get?

The medicines currently available under Continued Dispensing arrangements can be found in the National Health (Continued Dispensing – Emergency Measures) Determination.

Why have the medicines available under continued dispensing been changed?

Continued Dispensing originally applied to PBS-listed oral contraceptives and cholesterol-lowering medicines (statins). However, in response to the bushfire crisis, the Government temporarily expanded these arrangements to include most PBS medicines through Continued Dispensing (Emergency Measures). These emergency arrangements have been extended until 31 December 2021 to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What will I have to pay for these medicines?

You will have to pay the relevant PBS/RPBS co-payment, depending on your concessional status. The PBS co-payment levels as at 1 January 2021 are $6.60 for concessional persons and up to $41.30 for general persons. If you have reached your PBS/RPBS safety net, your PBS/RPBS prescription cost will be reduced to the applicable PBS/RPBS co-payment rate.

Will these medicines count towards my PBS/RPBS Safety Net?

In most cases, these medicines will count towards your PBS/RPBS Safety Net.  However, for certain PBS medicines, there is a Safety Net 20 day rule.  This means that for these medicines a resupply within 20 days of having the previous medicine supplied will not count towards your Safety Net.  If you had already reached the Safety Net threshold, you will need to pay the relevant pre-Safety Net PBS co-payment, not the reduced Safety Net amount. Your pharmacist will be able to discuss this further with you if this is relevant.

I previously had my blood pressure medicine dispensed under Continued Dispensing because I couldn’t obtain a prescription from my doctor during the initial COVID response. I do not want to wait in a doctor’s surgery, just to get a script for this medicine I regularly take. Can I still have my blood pressure medicine dispensed under Continued Dispensing?

No. A pharmacist can only dispense a medicine under Continued Dispensing if a person has not had the medicine dispensed under Continued Dispensing in the last 12 months. There may be other options available to you which you should discuss with your medical practitioner or pharmacist.

The Government has introduced a range of new measures to enable people to get their medicine during COVID-19 restrictions, including digital copy prescriptions and home delivery services.  More information on these and other measures is available on the Health website

What do I do if I have lost my Medicare or Concession Card?

The pharmacist can contact Services Australia for assistance on getting this information. Alternatively, members of the general public can contact Services Australia on 132 011.

Will I be able to get my next supply of PBS medicines without a prescription?

A Continued Dispensing medicine can only be supplied once in a 12 month period. You will need to ensure that you speak to a doctor to get a prescription for any future supplies of these medicines. There may be other options available to you which you should discuss with your medical practitioner or pharmacist.

For Pharmacists

Please note that Continued Dispensing arrangements are intended to complement, not replace existing emergency supply provisions including “owing prescription” arrangements and the additional measures introduced by the Australian Government to help reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 (such as e-Prescribing, new MBS telehealth items).  These alternative provisions should be considered before utilising Continued Dispensing arrangements.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) has guidance on the supply of medicines under the Continued Dispensing arrangements. You should read the Guidelines for the continued dispensing of eligible prescribed medicines by pharmacists before supplying medicines under these arrangements. The Guidelines are available from the PSA website.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has fact sheets on the emergency supply of medicines, and Services Australia provides an Education guide on the Continued Dispensing Initiative.

Why have the medicines available under Continued Dispensing arrangements been changed?

Continued Dispensing originally applied to PBS-listed oral contraceptives and cholesterol-lowering medicines (statins). However, in response to the bushfire crisis, the Government temporarily expanded these arrangements to include most PBS medicines through Continued Dispensing (Emergency Measures). These emergency arrangements have been extended until 31 December 2021 to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What do I need to do before I can dispense a medicine under these arrangements?

Before considering supply of medicines under Continued Dispensing arrangements, you should make sure that:

  • the person has an immediate need for the medicine before a script can be obtained;
  • circumstances prevented the person from accessing a prescriber (face-to-face or via telehealth) to obtain a new prescription;
  • it is not possible to obtain an “image based script” or approval for an “owing prescription” from a prescriber;
  • the medicine is eligible for supply under the arrangements (including under relevant state/territory legislation);
  • the person has been supplied the medicine in the last six months and their condition is stable;
  • the medicine has not been supplied under Continued Dispensing arrangements, including Continued Dispensing Emergency Measures, to the person by any pharmacy within the 12 months before the requested supply; and
  • it is safe and appropriate for the person to obtain the medicine.

Pharmacists are expected to adhere to the strict set of professional guidelines available on the PSA website.  It’s your responsibility to make sure you follow the necessary Commonwealth and state/territory legislation before supplying under continued dispensing.

What do I need to do to ensure the patient is eligible to have a medicine dispensed under Continued Dispensing?

You need to meet the requirements for dispensing under the Continued Dispensing arrangements, including confirming that the patient has an immediate need for the medicine and is not able to obtain a prescription from a Medical Practitioner and that the patient has not had the requested medicine dispensed from any pharmacy in the preceding 12 months under Continued Dispensing.

Do I need to comply with Commonwealth legislation or my state/territory legislation?

Supply of medicines under Continued Dispensing arrangements must be consistent with the Commonwealth legislation and the conditions of any relevant state or territory legislation or emergency public health orders. Pharmacists should refer to PSA’s COVID-19 microsite on the PSA website to access the most up to date information.

I have a situation where I cannot dispense a medication under Continued Dispensing to a person because they have previously had this medicine dispensed under Continued Dispensing in the last 12 months. What other options are available?

Continued Dispensing complements other emergency supply provisions available under state and territory legislation, including the 3/7 day emergency supply rule and the “owing prescription” provision. You will need to comply with state and territory requirements.

In addition, the Australian Government has introduced a range of new measures to enable people to access health services in their home such as the telehealth and digital imaging which the person may be eligible for. More information on these and other measures is available on the Health website.

Do I have to get the person to sign anything?

Yes. You are required to get the person to sign a declaration acknowledging that they have been supplied with medicines under these arrangements.

Your pharmacy dispensing software (PDS) will generate a Modified Repeat Authorisation Form, which you can use to record:

  • the details of the Continued Dispensing supply; and
  • the person’s signature to show they received the medicine.

Your PDS will also generate a Consumer Declaration and Prescriber Notification Form, which you can use to:

  • show that the person understands they were supplied without consultation from their prescriber; and
  • notify the person's most recent prescriber, or clinical practice, that a Continued Dispensing supply was given.

What documentation do I need to keep?

You must record the information used to support your decision to supply medicine under Continued Dispensing. You must:

  • keep records for two (2) years from the date of supply
  • keep your records consistent with other records
  • comply with state or territory and Commonwealth legislation.

What medicines can I dispense under this new arrangement?

PBS items that can be supplied under Continued Dispensing arrangements will be flagged in dispensing software and PBS Online.

Please note that medicines supplied under section 100 Special Supply Arrangements are not available under these arrangements. This includes medicines available through the Highly Specialised Drugs Program, Community Access Stream such as HIV medicines.

Does the person or prescriber need to provide a PBS prescription before I can make my PBS claim?

No. However, you should notify the person’s most recent prescriber, or their practice, in writing that a Continued Dispensing supply has been given to the person.

I know the person’s previous prescription was for an increased quantity. Can I supply that amount instead of the standard PBS/RPBS quantity?

Yes, provided you are compliant with your relevant state or territory legislation. If your state and territory legislation allows, your pharmacy dispensing software will explain how to process a previous authority supply for an increased quantity as Continued Dispensing.

While the Commonwealth provisions do not prohibit the Continued Dispensing for an increased quantity, state and territory provisions may not allow an emergency supply that is in excess of a standard PBS/RPBS quantity in the absence of a prescription.

Will I be able to make claims for streamlined or authority required items?

You will be able to make claims for any Continued Dispensing medicines, including those that are Authority Required (Streamlined) and Authority Required.

What should I do if the Continued Dispensing claim has been rejected?

If you have submitted a Continued Dispensing claim for an Authority Required medicine, ensure that your claim meets the legislative requirements (including your relevant state or territory legislative requirements) and guidelines.

If a Continued Dispensing claim for unrestricted or restricted medicine has been rejected, follow the advice provided by your pharmacy dispensing software (PDS). If you require further support, contact the PBS general enquiries line on 132 290 (Option 2).

What do I do if the person does not have their Medicare or health care card?

If a person does not have their Medicare, DVA or Centrelink card you should ring the PBS general enquiries line 132 290 (press option 1), for assistance.

For Prescribers

Why has the medicines available under continued dispensing been changed?

Continued Dispensing originally applied to PBS-listed oral contraceptives and statins. However, in response to the bushfire crisis, the Government temporarily expanded these arrangements to include most PBS medicines through Continued Dispensing (Emergency Measures). These emergency arrangements have been extended until 31 December 2021 to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have a situation where my patient is self-isolating and unable to attend my GP clinic to obtain a prescription for a medicine they regularly take. What options are available?

The Australian Government has introduced a range of measures to enable people to access health services in their home while they undergo self-isolation or quarantine, and reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for vulnerable people in the community.

For example, the use of telehealth consultations, digital copy prescriptions and/or home delivery services.  Further information is available on the Health website.

What are the requirements for my patient to be supplied PBS medicines without a prescription under Continued Dispensing arrangements?

Before dispensing medicines under these Continued Dispensing arrangements, the pharmacist must be satisfied that:

  • the person has an immediate need for the medicine;
  • circumstances prevented the person from accessing a prescriber (face-to-face or via telehealth) to obtain a new prescription;
  • it is not possible to obtain an “image based script” or approval for an “owing prescription” from a prescriber;
  • the medicine is eligible for supply under the arrangements (including under relevant state/territory legislation);
  • the person has been supplied the medicine in the last six months and their condition is stable;
  • the medicine has not been supplied under Continued Dispensing arrangements to the person by any pharmacy within the 12 months before the requested supply; and
  • it is safe and appropriate for the person to obtain the medicine.

Will my patient continue to be able to get these medicines without a prescription?

No. A Continued Dispensing medicine can only be supplied once in a 12 month period. Your patient will need to ensure they obtain a prescription for any future supplies of their medicines.

I have received a notification that a person has been provided PBS medicines under the Continued Dispensing arrangements. Do I need to provide a follow-up prescription?

No. However, you may wish to engage with the person to ensure they obtain prescriptions for any future supplies of these medicines.

For Software Vendors

What happens to the eligible list of medicines for Continued Dispensing when new medicines get listed on the PBS?

The only permissible PBS medicines for the original Continued Dispensing arrangements were originally oral contraceptives and cholesterol-lowering medicines (statins). Under the Emergency Measure, all s85 unrestricted, restricted, streamlined authority and authority required medicines are eligible to be dispensed under these arrangements.  It is important to note that any new PBS medicine listings that sit under these drug classes will automatically become eligible for patient access under Continued Dispensing arrangements.

Will I require a Notice of Integration (NOI) from Services Australia?

A NOI will not be required for this change.

Will there be a Software Vendor Testing (SVT) Environment?

Software Vendor Testing environment will be available if you wish to conduct testing, however, it is not mandatory for this change. Technical documentation on changes required in Dispensing Software may be available from Medical Software Industry Association (MSIA). Alternatively, software vendors can contact Online Technical Support at Services Australia on 1300 550 115 (Monday to Friday 8.30 am to 5.00 pm AEST).

General PBS Enquiries

For general PBS enquiries, members of the public can phone the Department of Health PBS information Line on 1800 020 613, or alternatively email the Department of Health.