12 May 2021

Petition calling for more Pharmac funding presented at Parliament

8:13 pm on 12 May 2021

By Kirsty Frame

Protests were held at 11 towns and cities across the country today calling on the Government to immediately double Pharmac's funding.

Pharmac protest outside Parliament

Pharmac protest outside Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Ruth Hill

It was part of the Lie Down for Life protest, organised by Patient Voice Aotearoa which has pulled together a petition with more than 100,000 signatures, pushing for the overhaul of Pharmac.

The petition was presented to Parliament earlier today, and there were emotional scenes as around 200 protesters marched silently through pouring rain before laying down on Parliament grounds.

Organisers say this was to demonstrate that New Zealanders will continue to die without adequate access to modern medicines.

Framed photographs of passed loved ones were arranged on the steps and the names of nearly 50 people were read, those who had died while waiting for drugs to be funded.

Malcolm Mulholland, a spokesperson for Patients Voice Aotearoa, said people are dying because they can't access life-saving medicines.

"That's the policy, either Pharmac has the money, or you don't get it. And sadly a lot of people aren't getting the drugs that they need", he said.

Mulholland remortagaged his house to pay for drugs for his wife, Wiki, who has stage four breast cancer. He said if Pharmac doubles its budget, people will be able to live, and live longer.

"That should be a priority for the Government - life."

The drug, Spinraza, which is used to treat Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or SMA, is funded in Australia and 56 other countries.

Pharmac protest outside parliament

Photo: RNZ / Ruth Hill

For 10-year-old Ryker Tolich, it was his third time at Parliament supporting his mother, Fiona, who was diagnosed with the muscle wasting disease SMA, at the age of 30.

"I'm so proud of my mum, but I don't want to carry on her legacy, I want her legacy to be left while she is still here [...] I don't want to take on this job because I want our government to do what's right."

MP's from across the political divide came to meet the protesters in the rain and spoke to the crowd.

Health Minister Andrew Little spoke and acknowledged the dedication of the people at the protest.

"It is right that we are all held to account, government and opposition, to make sure that the decisions made by people in this building behind us serve the needs of you, your whānau and families, your communities and all of New Zealand", Little Said.

In a statement Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt said while the agency recognises the challenges faced by patients, its job is to look at all the evidence and make decisions in the interests of all New Zealanders.

She notes there will always be more medicines than they want to fund - and that means sometimes they need to make difficult decisions.

The Government has recently commissioned an independent review of Pharmac, which is due make its interim report in August, with a final report in December. However funding is excluded from the review.

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