Hundreds rally at Parliament to present petitions for better Pharmac funding

Originally published on NZ Herald

Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First leader Winston Peter has thrown his weight behind trialling a scheme that would allow people early access to new drugs to treat some conditions.

Peters joined 16 other MPs from all parties on Parliament’s forecourt today to accept eight petitions from five cancer groups calling for better Pharmac funding for drugs. They were joined by hundreds of people rallying behind the petitions.

“Many of us know, in our heart of hearts that substantially, majorly, whether it’s your problems or rare diseases across our country, there but for the grace of God go you and I.

“That’s why we should be supporting a serious improvement in the medicines that are available to you,” Peters told the crowd.

“Rather than making you a promise today, our intention is to persuade the Minister of Health, who is on to the case already, to start a new trial with respect to Pharmac to access to new pharmaceuticals.

“We have just got to do better,” Peters said.

The petitions, calling for 26 treatments to be funded for six diseases and signed by more than 17,000 people, were handed to MPs.

The groups represented today were Lung Foundation New Zealand, Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition, Ovarian Cancer New Zealand, Myeloma New Zealand, Pompe New Zealand and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia Advocates New Zealand.

Rachel Brown of Ovarian Cancer NZ said about 350 women were diagnosed with the cancer each year and more than 250 died in the same period.

Most lived only three to five years following diagnosis.

“More effective treatments are needed to keep them alive. We need not only Pharmac but the Ministry of Health to step up and help these forgotten women,” Brown told the rally.

“Our petition, which was signed by almost 3000 New Zealanders, asks that the drugs Lynparza and Avastin be funded by Pharmac and that the Minister of Health increase the Pharmac budget to support this.”

She called the Pharmac system inhumane and broken.

“Whether a woman lives or dies should not be determined by her bank balance.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has asked Health Minister David Clark to do more work on an early access scheme. Similar schemes operate overseas.

Pharmac board chairman Steve Maharey has also backed the idea, although he suggested it should be piloted to avoid making costly errors that had emerged overseas.

Maharey said Pharmac was working with the Ministry of Health to look at all the early access processes around the world to identify what might be the best way forward.

“Personally, I would very much like to see something like this happen. As I said, we’ve identified that leading edge area as something that we simply must have some policy that will help us address that,” Maharey told the Herald.

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition chairwoman Libby Burgess said there needed to be an independent review of Pharmac’s model, which she said hadn’t changed for 25 years.

“Decision processes are slow, non-transparent and closed to input by those affected and in many cases the clinical experts who understand the value of medicines,” she said.

The health select committee recently voted against holding its own review of Pharmac, which was the subject of an earlier petition. The committee’s chairwoman, Labour MP Louisa Wall, said an independent review would be more appropriate.

The committee is also currently considering petitions calling for two breast cancer drugs, Kadcyla and Ibrance, to be funded by Pharmac. Some women with advanced breast cancer are raising the $6000 they need each a month for treatment themselves.

Those who cannot fundraise miss out. Pharmac is waiting for a recommendation by its expert oncology committee before making a decision on funding. That is expected shortly.