3 Dec 2020

Pharmac probe unlikely to examine commercial details - Little

5:37 pm on 3 December 2020

Work has started on setting up an inquiry into Pharmac but it's unlikely to have access to commercial information.

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There have been calls for an inquiry into how the drug buying agency makes its decisions, and how it prioritises the drugs it funds.

Today an opposition attempt to hold a select committee inquiry was voted down.

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Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Health Minister Andrew Little says the terms of reference for a separate inquiry are being developed and people will be appointed.

"With appropriate expertise, obviously they'll have to be appointed by the government, but there'll be people whose professional obligations will mean they carry independence."

Its ability to access commercial information is one of "the issues", he says, including the fact some of the "procurement arrangements entered into carry with it confidentiality obligations".

"There's a range of things they can do without having to get into issues of commercial confidentiality, such as the way they make decisions on new technologies and that may be extended to the way the current budget has been utilised."

Little says it is crucial the inquiry is carried out at arm's length from politicians, as they should not be making "political judgments" about Pharmac and its decisions.

"There are high level policy decisions, but it is better that they are reviewed at arm's length and independently", which, he says, is why the select committee inquiry was blocked.

His office would not confirm exactly what form the inquiry would take, saying only that more information would be released soon.

Inquiry inevitable - lobby group

Patient Voice Aotearoa spokesperson Malcolm Mulholland was spurred into action when his wife, Wiki, was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer in 2018.

He says the holding of an inquiry had become inevitable given the high number of petitions presented to Parliament about funding a range of drugs.

The independence of the inquiry is "vital", he says, but a main frustration has been about accountability: "who is actually responsible for Pharmac and who is prepared to review their performance and put a stake in the ground when things go awry?"

Mulholland says if there's an independent panel who all pledge confidentiality he doesn't see why they shouldn't have access to sensitive commercial information; a bigger concern for him is the willingness to prioritise patient outcomes over money.

National favours select committee scrutiny

National's health spokersperson Shane Reti says they turned up to the first health select committee of this Parliament "ready to be constructive, to be positive, to keep our campaign promises...we put that on the table and the Labour government voted it down".

That was disappointing, he says, as with the House rising next week there won't be any "formative work" for at least two months.

"And I just think it's more urgent to get a range of affordable medicines to New Zealanders than what was demonstrated by the Labour team at the select committee this morning."

Depending on the mandate given to inquiries, in his experience they are "generally successful" but Reti added a select committee can "probe with a lot of experience around the table" and he still believes that would be the best course of action.

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