Pharmac's early access scheme needs work - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admits work needs to be done on Pharmac's early access scheme, but believes its decisions are affected by more than just the money it has.

Last week the Government came under fire for blocking an inquiry by the Health Select Committee into Pharmac, after concerns were raised about its timeliness and ability to fund life-saving breast cancer drugs Ibrance and Kadcyla.

Health Minister David Clark earlier said he had written to the drug-buying agency asking it to consider the transparency and timeliness of its processes, but ultimately stood by the model.

Ardern told The AM Show on Tuesday she had asked the Minister to look in to early access to drugs, but agreed most elements of the Pharmac model were "exemplary".

"Pharmac, overall as a model, does provide us with access to drugs at a lower cost rate. There are elements of our Pharmac model that are just exemplary," she told The AM Show.

"However, for early access, I do think there is work to be done."

She refused to say if more money would be given to Pharmac in the upcoming budget and said Pharmac's decisions were affected by more than just the resources politicians gave it.

"I won't make any budget announcements, but regardless of the budget, I have already asked Minister David Clark to do some work on early access," she said.

"Their decisions aren't solely about operating within resource constraints, they are making clinical decisions about where they should be funding because at any given time there are multiple competing priorities.

"To simply say Pharmac has made a decision that is 'no' because of funding, I don't think is a fair representation."

Labour MPs Louisa Wall, Liz Craig and Angie Warren-Clark, as well as New Zealand First's Jenny Marcroft, blocked the inquiry.

Wall later defended the decision by saying there was already an inquiry underway by the Māori Affairs Select Committee.

Ardern also said a new inquiry would also take longer than Pharmac's current review.

"[The Select Committee] don't have the power to then change anything. They undertake an inquiry, make a recommendation to Parliament. Actually having the Minister do the work directly is quicker, so that is what I have asked him to do."

On Thursday, cancer patient Claudine Johnstone told The AM Show that she was leaving New Zealand for Australia, where Ibrance is funded.

Currently, Ibrance is available in New Zealand, but isn't subsidised. Breast cancer suffers have to pay roughly $6000 a month for the drug.

Petitions calling on Clark to work with Pharmac to fund Ibrance and Kadcyla received 29000 and 1500 signatures, respectively, and were delivered to Parliament last year.


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