Government promises independent Pharmac review after Labour MPs veto Health Select Committee inquiry

National MPs have lashed out at Labour for voting against a politician-led inquiry into Pharmac but the Government plans to launch an independent review anyway. 

Members of Parliament's Health Select Committee met on Thursday for the first time since the election and National Party members moved for an inquiry into unfunded medicines by the Government's drug-buying agency. 

Labour MPs vetoed the move, sparking anger from National MPs, including leader Judith Collins who tweeted her disappointment because Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised a Pharmac review during the election campaign. 

"During the campaign, Jacinda Ardern and I both promised an inquiry into Pharmac. Look what happened this morning when National pushed for one in the Health Select Committee," Collins wrote. 

A vote held at the Health Select Committee in April 2019 to hold an inquiry into Pharmac's processes was tied 4-4, blocked by Labour and New Zealand First MPs. 

Then-Health Minister David Clark told The AM Show politicians shouldn't be interfering with Pharmac's decisions. 

Ardern and Collins were asked during the Newshub Leaders Debate in September if they would support an investigation into Pharmac's funding model. 

"Yes we will - I think we should," Collins said. 

"If it gives people faith in our system, then yes," Ardern said. 

National's health spokesperson Shane Reti is now suggesting Labour has turned its back on Ardern's promise to have an inquiry into Pharmac. 

"Once again, Labour voted against the motion, despite Jacinda Ardern's agreement that an inquiry was needed during the campaign trail," Dr Reti said. 

"It's now starting to look as though Labour only agreed with an inquiry when it was politically palatable in the midst of an election campaign."

National's health spokesperson Shane Reti.
National's health spokesperson Shane Reti. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

But Health Minister Andrew Little confirmed the Government is planning an independent inquiry into Pharmac and that Labour just didn't support it being led by politicians on the Health Select Committee. 

"We're committed to doing a review of Pharmac. It needs to be at arm's length from politicians. It's not right for politicians making political judgements about Pharmac and its decisions. There are high-level policy decisions but it is better that they are reviewed at arm's length and independently," he told reporters. 

He said work is underway to establish terms of reference and an appropriate review body. 

"There was a motion I understand put up at the Health Select Committee for politicians to conduct that review but that would be inappropriate."

Little was asked if National was pulling a political stunt. 

"Who knows what they were doing. But it's not appropriate for politicians to be reviewing Pharmac... Any decisions about the way Pharmac operates, its funding and its future ought to be at arm's length."

Health Minister Andrew Little.
Health Minister Andrew Little. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Ardern said in Parliament on Wednesday she was in discussions with officials about an inquiry and continued to express confidence in the Pharmac model. 

The Government announced in May an increase of $160 million over four years for Pharmac in Budget 2020, bringing its budget to more than $1 billion for 2020/2021. 

But Malcolm Mulholland, chair of Patient Voice Aotearoa, says there is a medicine crisis. 

He says petitions asking for medicines to be funded across a range of cancers, rare disorders and chronic illnesses, alongside a petition to double Pharmac's budget and reform the agency, totals over 300,000 signatures.

"Open your ears Prime Minister," he said. "Other countries, such as Australia, do not put all their medicines in one supplier and are not experiencing medicine supply issues on the scale that is now being experienced by New Zealanders."

It comes after a petition was presented to Parliament on Wednesday with more than 30,000 signatures asking for drugs to be funded for Crohn's and Colitis patients.