Managing Medicines

The more health issues you have, the more medicines you are likely to take. In palliative care there are some special considerations for how medicines are managed. 

Costs of Medicines

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) subsidises medicines which are proven to work. This means that you can get them at a lower cost from your local pharmacy. The government decides which medicines will be subsidised. It also decides how many repeats you get and if your GP needs to get special permission to prescribe it.

Restricted Access:

Some medicines have restricted access. This could be because they are expensive. It could also be because they are at higher risk of causing problems. These medicines need to be written on an ‘authority script’. This means that the doctor gets authorisation to prescribe them. This then ensures the medication remains affordable.

Off License:

Your palliative care medicines may be prescribed 'off license'. This means they are used differently and not exactly as the PBS directs. You will have to pay more for these medicines. This could be through your local pharmacy. You could also arrange an ongoing supply through the hospital associated with your palliative care service.

PBS Safety Net:

You may need to get a lot of prescriptions filled, and this can become costly. If you or your family use a lot of medicines, the PBS Safety Net helps with the costs. Once you have reached a certain limit, you can receive medicines more cheaply for the rest of the year. You may only need to take 4 to 6 long term medicines a month to be eligible. This can help with costs as palliative patients can take on average 5 medicines a month.

Find out about my medicines

You can find out about your medicines in many ways.

  • Your doctor or pharmacist can give you information about your medicines.
  • The National Prescribing Service has a ‘Medicines Line’. They will give you independent information on your medicines. Or you can read about your medicines online.
  • Your local hospital may have a medicines information service. Call your local hospital and ask to speak with the pharmacy department.
  • Drug companies are required to tell you about the medicine you are taking in a Consumer Medicines Information (CMI) leaflet. It aims to give you information that is accurate, fair and easy to understand. This is often inside the medicine box or packaging.
  • Your doctor or pharmacist may suggest a Home Medicines Review (HMR). This can be helpful to look at the medicines that you are taking. Your pharmacist can do this at home for you, or perhaps at your doctor’s surgery. You can ask your doctor or pharmacist how this can be arranged.
  • All medicines can cause adverse effects. This could be a reaction to a medicine for example. You (or the person that you are caring for) may only experience some, or none of these effects. Discuss all adverse effects with your doctor or pharmacist. Some may just be temporary, while others may be a sign of a bigger issue.
  • You may worry that someone has had an overdose or suspected poisoning. If this happens, call the Poisons Information Centre, 24 hours a day (phone 13 11 26). For general emergencies call 000, 24 hours a day, and ask for an ambulance.

Practical Ways to Manage Medicines

Managing medicines is important, but it can be difficult. This may apply to yourself or someone that you are caring for.

You can easily forget to give or to take medicines, or even take them twice. You will find it easier if you use a medicines list to record this information. It is important that you take this list to your medical appointments. You should also ask your doctor to update this for you when your medicines are changed.

Sometimes, your doctor or pharmacist may suggest that you use a dose administration aid. This is a way to organise your medicines so that they are easier to manage. Your pharmacist may be able to fill this regularly for you. There may be a cost for this service.

  • Keep a list of what medicines you have and why you are taking them. 
  • Take your medicines lists to appointments. Either you or your doctor should keep this up-to-date. It can get confusing when some medicines are stopped and others are started.
  • You may find that organising these different scripts takes time. Make sure you have enough medicines to last over weekends and public holidays. It is more difficult to get a repeat prescription at these times. You may want to use a diary or calendar note to prompt you when a new prescription is required.
  • It may be helpful to use the same local pharmacy for your medicines. They will be able to stock the medicines that you are likely to need.
  • You may have a lot of tablets, or some very large ones. This can occasionally make it difficult to swallow them. You may be able to get some or all of them prescribed in another way (such as an oral liquid or injection).
  • Make sure that your medicines are kept safe. Store them properly according to the instructions and out of reach of young children and family pets.
  • You must not keep medicines that you are not using or that are out of date. Take them to your pharmacy for correct disposal.
  • Sometimes medications don’t agree with everyone. You will need to watch for adverse effects and monitor what is happening. This could be anything from a rash, to a wheeze, or diarrhoea. Report any adverse effects to the doctor and keep a record of this.
  • You may be given medicines on discharge from hospital. These may, or may not, be the same as what you were taking at home. As this could get confusing, it is important that you clarify any changes with your doctor or pharmacist.


Last updated 30 March 2021.