Impact on PBS service utilisation

The following data visualisation provides an overview of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the PBS in 2020 by comparing data on PBS prescriptions dispensed and government benefits paid with that seen in 2019. Prescription volumes by state and territory are presented for: Greater capital cities and Rest of state/territory areas, original and repeat prescriptions, prescriptions dispensed concurrently (regulation 49), PBS programs and Anatomical Therapeutic Classification (ATC) groups.

From January 2019 to December 2020 points of note are:

  • There was a high volume of prescriptions dispensed in March 2020, coinciding with the introduction of restrictions nationally, and followed by a decrease in April 2020. This pattern occurred in every state and territory and in most areas within states and territories.
  • There was an increase in the number of prescriptions dispensed for respiratory system medicines in March 2020 compared to the corresponding period in 2019. This increase was largely driven by the group of medicines used to treat respiratory related conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • There was a decrease in prescriptions dispensed for anti-infectives (this group consists predominantly of antibiotics and antivirals) from 2.5 million in March 2020 to 1.5 million in April. This downward trend carried through to December 2020 compared to the same months in 2019. This decrease in antimicrobial utilisation could be associated with COVID-19 measures such as physical distancing and improved hand hygiene practices. This corresponds with reports of lower numbers of influenza cases in Australia compared to previous years. Please refer to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System for laboratory confirmed influenza data.


Interactive charts showing: (a) overview of number of scripts and benefits paid by month; (b) script dispensing by location; (c) how people obtained their medicines; (d) number of PBS scripts supplied at the same time; (e) PBS programs; and (f) medicine utilisation.

The following data visualisations present quarterly rates for selected ATC groups and PBS programs for 2019 and 2020, by Statistical Area Level 3 and by Primary Health Network. Quarterly rates are available for prescription volume and benefits paid and presented as number per 100 people.

Rates for selected ATC groups and PBS programs by Statistical Area Level 3, 2019 and 2020

Note: Six ATC groups and four PBS programs are displayed in the maps.

Rates for selected ATC groups and PBS programs by Primary Health Network, 2019 and 2020

Note: Six ATC groups and four PBS programs are displayed in the maps.