National blasts Government's Pharmac funding increase

National is blasting the Government's Pharmac funding increase as a "pathetic shadow of what is needed" and warns it will actually limit New Zealanders' ability to access important medication.

On Sunday, the Government announced an increase of $160 million over four years in the Combined Pharmaceutical Budget, made up of an extra $10 million in 2020/2021 and $150 million over the subsequent three years.

However National's Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse is dismissive of this amount, saying it "beggars belief that the Government is skimping on funding".

"The $10 million increase to Pharmac in 2020-21 is less than 1 percent of its baseline and falls well short of inflation," he says in a statement.

"The Health Minister admits the increase isn't a ramp-up. I would go further and say that it is a significant ramp-down in real funding.

"There is going to be increased pressure for medicines as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and we need to be prepared."

Making the Government's announcement, Health Minister David Clark said the funding will "secure our medicine supply, while at the same time allowing scope for Pharmac to continue to work on expanding the range of funded treatments where possible".

Since Budget 2019, 13 new medications have been approved by Pharmac to become publicly funded, including six new cancer treatments. In the last two years, more than 200,000 New Zealanders have benefited from 65 additional or widened-access subsidised medicines, the Health Minister said. 

However the Breast Cancer Foundation NZ is begging the Government to improve early access to new cancer drugs.

"Pharmac announced it will continue to take the same approach to approving new drugs that it's taken for the last 27 years," CEO Evangelia Henderson says in a statement.

"We all know that's not good enough for evaluating the latest, specialised cancer drugs. Even the Government acknowledged that last year, when it agreed to develop a plan for early access to new cancer medicines."

Patients are still waiting for that plan, Henderson says, and it will be fatal to back away from it now.

"While COVID-19 might be eliminated in New Zealand, cancer certainly won't be. Developing a simpler, faster way to approve new cancer drugs, based on evidence accepted in other developed countries, will save or extend the lives of thousands of Kiwis."

And Woodhouse says the Pharmac funding decision only makes it tougher for patients to get the drugs they need.

"We have already seen a spending commitment on Keytruda delayed due to fiscal constraints and this announcement makes similar decisions more likely," he says.

"Instead of trying to mislead the public and pretend they're addressing the issue with spin, the Government needs to front up and ensure our hospitals and Pharmac have the support needed to get the job done."