The National Party has intensified its call for a ministerial inquiry into Pharmac's decision to switch its funded epilepsy drug to Logem - which is suspected to be linked to five deaths.
National health spokesman Michael Woodhouse today released a statement again calling for a ministerial inquiry into Pharmac's October 1 decision to change to a generic form of epilepsy drug lamotrigine.
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Woodhouse said National has been requesting the ministerial inquiry into generic drug Logem since November, and made a number of allegations about the Government's handling of the patient deaths.
The fresh political pressure on the Government and Pharmac comes after the death of Auckland man Andre Maddock on December 16.
Maddock had suffered from seizures for many years and had changed his medication to the Logem brand of lamotrigine shortly before his death.
Four other patient deaths had previously been linked to a drug change to Logem.
"The tragic news that it's suspected to have caused the death of a young father just before Christmas, as well as four deaths reported earlier in 2019, suggests the brand switch put lives at risk," Woodhouse said.
"Medsafe and patients raised concerns about the switch before it went ahead."
A Government spokesperson responded to the comments from Woodhouse by emphasising the matter was currently being looked into by the Coroner.
"Any sudden death is a tragedy and my sympathies are with the family and friends," the spokesperson said.
"These deaths are being investigated by the Coroner, and in the meantime Pharmac has made changes to the way the brand change is being managed."
Woodhouse also questioned Health Minister David Clark's knowledge of the risks of Logem, after it was revealed Pharmac knew for more than two weeks that three deaths had been linked to its epilepsy drug brand switch but didn't tell patients or the public.
"While a coronial investigation is ongoing, questions remain about whether or not Health Minister David Clark was involved in the decision-making process and why Pharmac appears not to have taken action when news of a patient's death was first received," Woodhouse said
"News of a possible fifth death in relation to the switch to Logem only increases questions around whether the risks of the drug switch were appropriately assessed.
"What's more, it appears Pharmac knew about the first patient death possibly being linked to the drug switch and took no action for a month. The public deserves to know why."
However, the Government denied this was the Health Minister's responsibility.
"There are clear and long-standing procedures for handling reports of possible harm caused by adverse reactions to medicines. It is not for Ministers to manage those processes, which are rightly a matter for clinical experts," the Government spokesperson said.
Emails released under the Official Information Act also show the Pharmac board alerted Minister of Health David Clark to the deaths on 29 October, under the 'no surprises' policy, but he too said nothing publicly.
The drug buying agency Pharmac continued with the cost-saving brand switch after being told on October 29 that three deaths had been reported to the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring (Carm) over suspicions they were linked to the change.