Dear incoming Minister of Health. First off, congratulations. Big job. I saw that Professor Peter Davis sent you a letter. In the interests of balancing the debate, I thought I'd do the same.
Davis contends that the Pharmac model of funding medicines is entirely excellent and defensible. I agree. That is, unless you're sick. Particularly if you're sick with something really challenging.
Empty slogans are rattled off by politicians and their enablers, such as Pharmac is the "envy of the world" or "we must remain independent of the decisions made by Pharmac". If our system is so good, why has no one else emulated it? If our system is so enviable, why are thousands and thousands of Kiwis dying from, or being severely incapacitated by, conditions which are treated in countries a lot poorer than ours.
If our system is working fine, why have I had to fight so damn hard to try and save someone I love?
New Zealand now faces a choice heading into the future; do we want to have better access to life-changing drugs?
It would seem, based on the large volume of heart-breaking stories being told by patients with firsthand experience up and down the country, we have had enough of fighting to gain access to medicines that have been funded by other countries for a significant number of years.
Name a disease, such as diabetes, cancer or a rare disorder, and you can bet your life that there are a host of medicines that need funding, not just one or two. I do not accept that we don't have enough money to fund Pharmac properly. Case in point, Covid-19. We, as a country, just spent billions of dollars, and continue to do so, all in the name of protecting the health of New Zealanders.
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Why is it any different for patients who are in desperate need of medications? Who in government is determining who gets to live or die?
A growing chorus of discontent with Pharmac has resulted in every political party agreeing – albeit in the extreme conditions of an election campaign – that we need to hold an inquiry into Pharmac. Now the focus needs to be on ensuring that any such inquiry is truly independent.
Pharmac has never had an inquiry into the agency in its 27-year history. It is vital we get it right and don't initiate a rubber-stamping exercise that simply goes against what every patient and medical specialist should know – that the Pharmac model is in urgent need of being revamped and adequately resourced to do its job.
If there is any hint of political interference, the inquiry will be a complete waste of time and patients will continue to die earlier and have a poorer quality of life than patients with the same disease lucky enough to have an adequate national medicines policy.
Minister, there is one final point I would like to make: Let's keep moving. Generally, that involves actually staying alive.
• Malcolm Mulholland's wife, Wiki, has advanced breast cancer and he is the chair of Patient Voice Aotearoa, a collective of patients and NGO's advocating for better medicine access in New Zealand.