Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Major Pharmac review delayed nearly 3 months

A major review into Government drug buying agency Pharmac has been delayed by nearly three months.

A patient advocate says the revelation and lack of any accompanying announcement are further signs the Government is “not acting in good faith”, and putting people’s lives at risk.

It comes after funding set aside in Budget 2021 was deemed insufficient, coming in about eight times under what was needed to fully fund Pharmac’s wish list, and ignored official advice to defer increases until after the review was completed.

Labour had campaigned ahead of last year’s election to conduct an independent review into Pharmac, which independently decides medicines to buy with Government funding, focusing on the timeliness and transparency of its decisions.

The review was due by December 10, but responses to written parliamentary questions from the Act Party have revealed this has now been pushed back to February 28.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Andrew Little said the delay was due to the Covid-19 outbreak, and they had nothing further to say.

This delay follows a nearly two-month delay to the interim report that was due “no later than August 20”.

That delay was also blamed on the Covid-19 outbreak, which began on August 17.

Patient Advocate Aotearoa trustee Fiona Tolich, who has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), submitted as part of the review process.

“It was so emotional I pretty much cried the whole way through,” said Tolich, who has been fighting for Pharmac to fund the drug Spinraza, as is done in dozens of other countries including Australia, for the 30 to 35 people with SMA here aged under 18.

“When you are fighting for kids who are dying, it felt like one of the last opportunities to have someone listen.”

The further delays to the review were a “kick in the teeth” for those who submitted, Tolich said.

“I don’t understand how they can blame it on the lockdown, when the interim review was due three days after it started and then delayed for months.

“This further delay just feels like another block. The minister should be out fronting this. No response, no engagement, it doesn’t feel like they are doing this in good faith.

“When you push something as important as this out by months it equates to lives lost.”

As a result of the review, Tolich said they wanted to see better involvement of patients, experts and advocates in the decisions process; and a cost-analysis that took into account costs to society in allowing people to go untreated.

Act Party deputy leader and health spokeswoman Brooke van Velden said the delays highlighted the Government’s reluctance to do the review in the first place.

Act had called for a review last year ahead of the election, with both Labour and National agreeing they would follow through.

The scope of the announced review included how well Pharmac performed against its current objectives and whether this could be improved.

It also looked into the timeliness and transparency of Pharmac’s decision-making and equity, including access to medicines and devices for Māori and Pacific peoples.

Van Velden said the fact the review excluded funding considerations and was taking place outside wider healthcare reforms showed “how disingenuous this Government’s approach to Pharmaceuticals really is”.

“Patients made submissions in good faith. Not only will they need to wait until next year for the final report, but they are also still waiting for the findings of the interim report to be publicly released.

“For many New Zealanders, funding for pharmaceuticals is life or death, or the difference between a life of pain and suffering or living freely.”

As part of moves to improve transparency, Pharmac in July released priority lists for all funding applications for medicines it has assessed but not yet funded for the first time.

The “options for investment” list includes all the applications that would be funded if Pharmac had the budget for them.

To fund each drug would cost close to half a million dollars a year – a substantial increase on the current $1.1 billion budget.

The $200m set aside in Budget 2021 and spread over four years would see just $40m extra go to the agency in the next year.

In October National Party health spokesman Dr Shane Reti revealed Minister Little ignored official advice to defer the $200 million Pharmac package to 2022 or 2023, so that findings of the independent review could be taken into account.

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