20k NZers sign petitions for better funding of medicines

By Jessica Tyson

Almost 20,000 New Zealanders have signed eight petitions to be presented to parliament, demanding better funding of medicines.

The petitions will be formally presented to MPs on May 7, asking for 26 drugs to be funded for six diseases.

The diseases include breast cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, lung cancer, non-small-cell lung cancer, myeloma, multiple myeloma, ovarian cancer and Pompe disease.

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition chair Libby Burgess says the petitions are sending a strong message to the government and PHARMAC that there needs to be a significant change.

"New Zealanders are suffering and dying without vital medicines and the government can't continue to ignore this,” she says.

New Zealand currently spends $199 per person per year on medicines, compared to the 2016 OECD average of $951.

Lung Foundation New Zealand CEO Philip Hope says, “It’s unacceptable that New Zealanders are being denied access to treatments which are the standard of care abroad.”

People are currently having to self-fund medicines if they can afford it.

“They mortgage the family home, set up Givealittle pages or go overseas to get many of the medicines we are marching for.”

The health groups presenting the petitions are Lung Foundation New Zealand, Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC), Ovarian Cancer New Zealand, Myeloma New Zealand, Pompe New Zealand and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia Advocates New Zealand.

The march on May 7

People supporting the petitions will gather outside Wellington Library at 10.45am.

They will then march to PHARMAC  on Mercer St for a candle-lighting ceremony in commemoration of those lost to the diseases among others.

The march will continue along Willis St and Lambton Quay to the steps of parliament to present the petitions to MPs.

There will be many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people throughout New Zealand, providing moral support for the marchers, according to the organisers.

People will carry photos of their loved ones who have been lost due to their disease, and whose lives would have been improved if medicines were adequately funded.

Husband demands inquiry into PHARMAC

Malcolm Mulholland says his wife is battling breast cancer and is finding it difficult to access drugs in NZ because of costs.  He is calling for the Māori Affairs Select Committee to hold an inquiry into PHARMAC to reduce the costs.

For Mulholland and his wife Wiki, keeping up with the $6,900 monthly cost for her life savings drugs is a struggle.

"As a result of looking at why [the drug] Ibrance is funded overseas and not here at home, it became pretty evident to me that PHARMAC was to blame and there was a lot of shortcomings as to their funding process."

He is urging the Māori Affairs Select Committee to hold an inquiry on behalf of other families in the same boat.

However, after four months he is yet to receive a response.

"My wero to the members of the Māori Affairs Select Committee is this; if you're not there to improve the lives of our people who are less fortunate than others, for our people who have sadly been diagnosed with a terminal illness such as cancer then really what is the purpose of you being there?" says Mulholland.

Select committee chairman Rino Tirikatene says they opened a briefing in October last year and expect a response from PHARMAC by the end of the month.

"We haven't been sitting on our hands as a committee, we are demanding answers from PHARMAC."

PHARMAC to give more clarity on funding decisions

On Tuesday PHARMAC announced a new overhaul of their decision-making process which will give better insight into what medicines are, and are not, being actively considered for funding.

PHARMAC chief executive Sarah Fitt says there have been a number of funding applications that are unlikely to be funded but have remained open in the application system, so PHARMAC is proposing to decline them.

“We have open applications for medicines with little or no evidence that they work better than other medicines, with proof that they could cause people harm, or with no company able to supply the medicine in New Zealand.

“Unfortunately, we’ll never be able to fund everything and we can’t justify using taxpayers’ money to fund medicines that aren’t better than treatments we already fund."