30 Apr 2024

Call for radical reform of Pharmac's budget amid concern Kiwis not getting basic standard of care

9:30 am on 30 April 2024
Different pills in hand in a medical glove on a blue background. Medicine. Treatment. Prevention

Photo: 123RF

New Zealand offers no appeal for drug companies because it's so hard to make a sale, the Cancer Society says.

Pharmac says the $1.7 billion boost to its budget over four years will keep it afloat, but won't cover new medicines.

The government said the extra cash injection - which takes the agency's budget to more than $6b over the period - is needed to fix a funding shortfall left by the previous government.

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt said the increase would ensure ongoing access to all medicines currently funded and let the agency continue work on continuous glucose monitors for diabetes, and more treatments for people with myeloma.

However, she said any money for new drugs would have to come from the Budget 2024 announcement.

Cancer Society chief executive Dr Rachael Hart said the funding announced on Monday offered no capacity to invest in new drugs.

New Zealand was at the bottom of OECD rankings in terms of spending on medicines.

"So we need a radically new approach to think about how do we keep pace with technological advancement."

New Zealand needed to start benchmarking itself against other countries and consider the capped nature of the medicines budget which should be "right-sized" - possibly with another $2 billion or $3b.

Other countries' basic standard of care was not available for New Zealand patients, she told Morning Report.

"Drug companies are simply not investing in New Zealand with new drugs. We're falling further and further behind because we simply don't have access to those drugs."

Drug manufacturers were also not holding clinical trials in New Zealand which would offer patients the opportunity to gain access to new drugs much earlier.

This country held no appeal for them because they knew their medications would not be funded once they were approved for general use.

"We have a reputation internationally as being incredibly hard to get over the line and that is hindering our reputation, not helping it."

Dr Hart said the Cancer Society would be talking to the government about Budget funding for the 13 cancer drugs National had promised to pay for, during the last election campaign.

Still no funding for Keytruda

Breast Cancer Foundation's chief executive Ah-Leen Rayner welcomed the announcement but said the new funding would not cover proven drugs such as Keytruda.

It had been shown to save and extend lives for women with triple negative breast cancer, which is the most aggressive form.

"In New Zealand there are no funded drugs that will help women with triple negative breast cancer so it really is a significant problem not being able to have access to new modern drugs," Rayner told First Up.

Pharmac has expressed a desire to fund Keytruda but cannot afford to.

The drug was readily available for patients in other countries, including the UK and Australia, Rayner said.

While it was unfunded women faced the prospect of raising thousands of dollars to pay for it, moving to Australia or going without.

She said the new funding didn't cover any other new treatments on Pharmac's list of options for investment but she remained hopeful the Budget might boost funding further.

"Further work is required ... there is hope further announcements will come in the future."

Fitt told Morning Report Pharmac would like to pay for more medicines but it came down to more funding being made available.

She agreed New Zealand's spending on medicines was among the lowest in the OECD although she pointed out Pharmac had managed to pay less for some medications.

"So you can't always compare across countries but there is no doubt there is always more medicines that we would fund, and we would love to be able to fund them but that comes down to how much funding is made available."

Fitt said Pharmac tried to negotiate prices for drugs before any Budget spending was announced in the hope of avoiding higher prices.

She said there was nothing she could offer those desperate for medications that weren't funded at present - it all depended on more money being made available.

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