'Pharmac underfunded, Māori die, Labour pats itself on the back' - patient advocate

By Stefan Dimitrof

Last week’s government budget announcement was lauded by many for its record financial boost to Pharmac, New Zealand's drug buying agency, but a patient advocate says the announcement was met with two rather different responses.

Malcolm Mulholland chairs Patient Voice Aotearoa chair, a collective of patients and advocates that petitioned the government to fund more medicines through Pharmac.

But is the additional $191 million over two years announced in the budget enough to address the country's medicine funding crisis?

Mulholland said his group advocates for patients with a range of diseases and conditions.

Most of the people Patient Voice Aotearoa represents are Māori and are poorer and they can’t afford the medicines they need.

Mullholand said the government announcement to fund $300 million for Pharmac got two different responses.

“One was of despair from the patients and one from the Labour politicians was jubilation.”

$300m needed every year

Mulholland said they had taken a group of 20 to 30 patients to the announcement of the budget but, after hearing the sum that was being funded for Pharmac, they knew it wasn't enough.

“Many of them left in tears while some of the Labour MPs were clapping and giving themselves a pat on the back.”

Mulholland said that for the government to fix the problem it needed to ensure a yearly budget of $300 million to clear the Pharmac waiting list.

“Off the back of that, we need to see Pharmac budget doubled and then with a plan to increase it further, so we can keep on top.”

“What we are striving for here is to be average with the rest of the world. We know that Pharmac is underfunded in contrast to the rest of the developed world.”

“If we base it on an OECD average or per capita basis with Australia, then it should be $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

“We need to address it sooner rather than later or patients will simply start dying in contrast to their overseas counterparts."