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Pharmac funding calls attention to gaps in Aotearoa’s healthcare system

10th July, 2024

Interviews by Castor Chacko, Elle Daji, and Oto Sequeira, adapted by Ashley-Rose Redstone

Chief Executive for the Breast Cancer Foundation, Ah-Leen Rayner, is hopeful about the government’s announcement to boost Pharmac funding for cancer treatments. However, other experts and critics say there’s still more to be done.

In late June, the government announced an additional $604 million to fund over 50 new medicines through Aotearoa’s pharmaceutical agency (Pharmac).

The announcement came after the government faced widespread public backlash for excluding Pharmac funding from the budget announcement in May, despite their pledge to fund 13 new cancer treatments during the general elections.

However, the government explained that the funding injection would cover the distribution of 54 new medications, including 26 cancer treatments, exceeding previous expectations.

Chief Executive for the Breast Cancer Foundation, Ah-Leen Rayner, told 95bFM’s The Wire that the recent announcement was “incredibly hopeful” as the uncertainty of cancer treatment availability is often daunting for patients.

Rayner said that for some strains of breast cancer, including aggressive forms such as Triple Negative Breast Cancer there is no funding available for its treatment.

“What we do know is that Kiwis will actually have access to 54 new medicines that they previously didn't have access to.”

“For some of those kiwis, [The new medicine] will save their lives”

However, Chair of Patient Voice Aotearoa, Malcom Mulholland, told The Wire that Aotearoa spends well below the average within the OECD when it comes to funding our pharmaceutical agency.

“There are drugs right now sitting there that have been on Pharmac’s waiting lists for over 10 years. “

“It means that patients go without [this medicine] for a great deal of time, and nobody knows how much time that will be.”

Mulholland explained that Aotearoa’s process towards distributing new medication is extensive. Essential medicines, like EpiPens for example, took 17 years to receive funding.

Additionally, Professor of Health Economics and Population Health at the University of Auckland, Paula Lorgelly, told The Wire that the boost in Pharmac funding may lead to a trade-off in other sectors, with additional funding being needed to distribute medicine within a “very crippled” healthcare system.

“This is actually about the healthcare system and equities in accessing the system.”

“There's always going to be a balance between greater access versus a greater drug budget.”

Lorgelly explained that, without proper care and an efficient system for cancer screening, patients within Aotearoa would not be able to access much needed medicines.

Green Party MP, Ricardo Menéndez March, told The Wire that, in order to fund Pharmac sustainably, the government needed tax reforms allowing them to distribute new medicines for vulnerable communities.

March also said that the government’s recent tax cuts left Aotearoa with less to spend on its public healthcare infrastructure, and did not place an emphasis on community needs.

“The public can see for itself that the government did break a promise and after a huge amount of backlash, they had to use money for future budgets to be able to cover the costs of those medicines.”

“[There is a] need to stop playing political football over cancer drugs, and resource Pharmac adequately so that more life saving medicines can be accomplished.”

Listen to the interview with Ah-Leen Rayner

Listen to the interview with Malcolm Mulholland

Listen to the interview with Paula Lorgelly

Listen to the interview with Ricardo Menéndez March