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Multiple Failings of PHARMC require a Royal Commission – Whanau are dying

The New Zealand Maori Council has asked the Prime Minister to establish a Royal Commission to investigate PHARMAC and successive Governments failure to provide adequate funding. Executive Director of the Council, Matthew Tukaki, has also said that an urgent investigation is needed into the number of New Zealanders who might have been adversely affected by a change of drug brand dealing with mental health and why many Maori are locked out of accessing lifesaving and extending medications.

Tukaki wrote to the Prime Minister on the 10th of June.

“At the outset, the concerns of the New Zealand Māori Council were around the affordability factor of life saving and life extending medications when it came to our people. From an economic perspective, and using breast cancer medications as an example, the non-scheduling of some medications is out of the realm of possibility for many whanau.” Said Tukaki

“As the Council dug deeper into the challenge of the provision of life saving and life extending medications, we discovered it wasn’t just breast cancer but also rare cancers and well-known forms of medically diagnosed conditions familiar to many New Zealanders. For example; PHARMAC fund adrenalin but the not the EpiPen through which the drug is transmitted. Then there is the case of more than 45,000 New Zealanders who have been shifted from one mental health drug to another. While PHARMAC argue that the drug mix is the same, but with a different brand, in a single year there were 142 reports of adverse side effects from those who had transitioned. The admission from the CEO of PHARMAC in an interview with Radio New Zealand that she cannot be certain – that of that 142 who have experienced side effects as a result of the switch, they may or may not have gone on to self-harm, attempt suicide or commit suicide – is a challenging statement to hear.” Said Tukaki

“In fact, there is no publicly available research or access to data around those numbers (142) that could be independently assessed or evaluated – unless they form the release of the Coronial data later in the year. There is also no guarantee that Medsafe or PHARMAC are collecting enough raw data and information to ensure the safety and quality of the switch process nor is there any narrative around the 142 New Zealanders who may be impacted to be informed; to be safe and to be provided with full quality of care. I would also reason that there is no data available to indicate whether whanau, carers or any other New Zealanders were put at risk as a result of the adverse side effects – because we just don’t know what they are.” Said Tukaki

“The second reality is, there are more than a hundred unscheduled medicines on the list waiting to be scheduled – some of which are available in other jurisdictions such as Australia. Yet there is no indication when these medicines or remedies will be available, even though they may have been fit for purpose and passed the clinical assessments, because it falls to one of economic circumstance. This harsh reality is cause for concern, when we talk about the well-being of New Zealanders because there has not been a sustainable approach to an increase in funding for these unscheduled medications and remedies for many years. While I understand the commercial sensitivities around price point negotiations, the Minister for Health and other Government members have indicated that the PHARMAC model is world’s best practice, admired by many other jurisdictions and we should take everything on trust – that the Agency is doing the best it can.” Said Tukaki

“This is why a Royal Commission is needed – not just to test the veracity of the current model and the claims being made it is fit for purpose but how we might be able to strengthen it, develop it and ensure that is adequately funded. $10 million per annum over four years is just not going to make a difference as meaningful as it would be there was a real plan and real action. That includes why we have not seen the plan for a national early access scheme for cancer.” Tukaki said

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