The government released a review into Pharmac yesterday after a three month delay. The purpose of the review was to assess how well Pharmac performs against its objectives and whether and how its performance could be improved in particular for equitable outcomes among different ethnic groups including Maori and Pacific.
The report was not allowed to make any recommendations to increase the funding of Pharmac. Per capita, New Zealand ranks near the bottom of the OECD for medicines funding.
While the report is critical of many aspects of Pharmac, and we support the recommendation for Pharmac to work closer with Te Aho O Te Kahu (Cancer Control Agency), we were disappointed by its other recommendations for cancer.
In particular the report recommended that cancer medicines:
– should no longer receive special treatment
– shouldn’t get special funding
This ignores the fact that cancer patients don’t have the luxury of time. They are dying every day.
The report talks a lot about how comparable health systems are funding cancer treatments of “no or marginal benefit” but fails to mention, let alone explain that NZ’s cancer survival has changed the least of those comparable systems (corresponding with the advent of modern medicines) and that we now rank at the bottom of these comparable countries for cancer survival.
Australia’s ovarian cancer survival is 43%. NZ’s is 36%. Women in NZ have similar survival before recurrence as Australia, but once they recur survival drops. This difference is mostly due to a lack of medicines funding.
The report talks about how clinical trials for treatments don’t reflect New Zealand’s unique ethnic background – but fails to mention that the reason these clinical trials do not include New Zealand is because we don’t fund “standard of care” treatments that form the treatment control arm of many clinical trials.
The report talks a lot about how cancer medicines are unaffordable. But fails to mention that “unaffordable” is $5 per person a week. That’s the difference between New Zealand’s medicine budget and Australia’s. The cost of a panadol packet.
As an organisation we strongly endorse Patient Voice Aotearoa’s call to double the Pharmac budget. We’re sick of competing with other diseases over table scraps. It’s time to fund medicines appropriately.
Further Reading: “Cancer, rare disorder advocates call for more radical change after damning Pharmac review” by Bridie Witton published in Stuff 02 June 2022