Petition to triple Pharmac's budget to be handed over to Parliament

A petition calling for a tripling of Pharmac's medicines budget will be handed over to Parliament on Wednesday, activists around the country taking part in a mass lie-down at the same time.

Patient Voice Aotearoa (PVA) says one in 50 Kiwis - 100,000 people - have signed the petition, which also calls for a royal commission of inquiry into the drug-buying agency. 

"It's massive," chair Malcolm Mulholland told Newshub. "If you're not impacted directly, more often than not there's a loved one that has been... it doesn't matter what walk of life you come from, everybody's got a story to tell when it comes to Pharmac and how inadequate they are." 

Mulholland's wife Wiki Mulholland has been battling advanced breast cancer. In March, he told The AM Show he's long been a personal friend of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, but she no longer replies to his calls or texts.

She was invited to receive the petition in Wellington, but declined, PVA said.

The group wants next week's Budget to double funding for Pharmac, which in the 2019-20 year spent $1.04 billion on medicines. Our spending on health per capita is middle-of-the-pack in the OECD, at about US$3343 a year. But Pharmac's budget of about $1 billion places us near the bottom for pharmaceutical spending as a proportion of the health budget. 

After the budget is doubled, Mulholland and PVA want it tripled within two years.

"That would bring us into today's average of the OECD spend when it comes to medicines. Right now, we're a third at best of what the rest of the developed world spends on medicines." 

He said many people who planned to take part in the nationwide lie-down, just after midday, have since died "whilst battling Pharmac".

A review into Pharmac's operations is underway, but its budget and past decisions aren't being looked at. Mulholland said an ongoing coronial inquiry into the deaths of six epileptic patients after their medicine brand was switched might force the Government's hand.

"If the coroner rules that Pharmac is culpable, then that only leaves one course of action - a royal commission of inquiry." 

Malcolm Mulholland.
Malcolm Mulholland. Photo credit: The AM Show

Pharmac saves taxpayers hundreds of millions a year by using its purchasing power - as a single buyer - to get discounts.

Health Minister Andrew Little in March said Pharmac's budget wasn't up for review because "there is no sum of money that will ever be enough to provide all of the medications  to meet all the needs of every person".

"In the end the budget, like the rest of the health budget and the rest of the Government budget is a set of political decisions and political trade-offs and that's why it doesn't make sense to review that. What we want to know is that when Pharmac is making its decisions, that it is doing so in the best way possible."