First wahine Māori to head Pharmac advisory board

By Will Trafford

The first wahine Māori will takeover as chair of Pharmac's Advisory Committee; the group which suggests which pharmaceutical drugs should be funded by the government.

Dr Jane Thomas (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu) will lead the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee (PTAC) from December. Dr Thomas is a paediatric anaesthetist and pain medicine specialist working at Starship Children’s Hospital and The Auckland Regional Pain Service. She's spent 9 years on the PTAC board.

‘I originally joined PTAC to make a difference. We have some robust discussions and it's hard work. But the results of our efforts speak for themselves when Pharmac funds medicines. We know that we’re helping New Zealanders on a large scale by ensuring their tax dollars are spent appropriately to provide the best range of medicines for all people in Aotearoa.’ She said.

New Zealand takes 2.5 times as long as the OECD average of nine months to publicly fund modern medicines and in March the government announced a review of the organisation’s operations. Dr Thomas concedes the organisation has limited means, but the group does its best to advocate for New Zealanders.

‘We often have to be pragmatic and understand the bigger picture when considering funding of medicines, but in being part of PTAC, my knowledge which comes from interacting face-to-face with Kiwis in need of help is what’s so important and useful to the whole PTAC process.’ She said,

Pharmac’s Chief Executive Sarah Fitt praised the appointment.

‘We are delighted Jane has accepted the appointment of Chair... She brings a wealth of experience from her more than 20 years at Starship Hospital and brings huge passion for equity in health outcomes.’ Fitt said.

Dr Thomas says being she’s proud of her whakapapa and is committed to ‘pushing for equitable outcomes for all New Zealanders.’

‘I am proud to be whakapapa Māori, and to be a woman who can bring an entirely new perspective to the chair position. Without a doubt, I’m committed to supporting and upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Through the real, tangible incorporation of the values of Te Tiriti, I hope to see the improvement of outcomes for Māori, Pasifika, and other groups facing health disparity.’ She said.

Dr Jane Thomas replaces Dr Mark Weatherall who has served on PTAC since 2008 and as PTAC’s Chair since 2015.

‘We thank Mark for the huge wealth of experience he brought to Pharmac’s decision making as a member and the Chair of PTAC’ Chief Executive Fitt said.