Budget 2022: Patient advocate Malcolm Mulholland says New Zealand has 'medicine funding crisis' despite Pharmac boost

New Zealand has a "medicine funding crisis" that the latest Pharmac boost has failed to resolve, patient advocate Malcolm Mulholland says.

The Government allocated an additional $191 million over two years to New Zealand's drug buying agency on at Thursday's Budget, the largest-ever investment in it. Including the $200 million boost over four years announced in 2021, the budget is up 43 percent under Labour, the Health Minister says.

But it's still far below what it would take to fund all of the drugs on Pharmac's wish-list, which Newshub revealed last year would cost more than $400 million a year.

Patient Voice Aotearoa Chair Malcolm Mulholland told AM on Friday that thousands of New Zealand patients, suffering from a range of diseases and conditions, including cystic fibrosis or type-one diabetic, are going to miss out. 

"It will miss out more people thank it will help. We will see Pharmac have a particular focus on cancer. When those drugs are funded in New Zealand, that is a good thing, but it just does not go far enough."

He wants Finance Minister Grant Robertson to start using the "dreaded C-word" - crisis. 

"We have a medicine funding crisis. Even if we were to fund Pharmac's wish list, there's still another 280 drugs that Pharmac are accessing right now. What's the plan to pay for those, or do we just have to wait another decade and be behind the rest of the world? A

"Even if we were to fund those drugs, we would still only be average in the developed world. And that's all we want to achieve. We want to be average with the rest of the OECD."

While the Budget was touted as being transformational for health in New Zealand, Mulholland said it hasn't priortised medicines. 

"We took a group of 30-odd patients to Parliament the other day across a range of diseases, and they were devastated with the news. I got them together when the news came out and I said, look, some of you will get the medicines that you need, in particular those with some of the cancers. But a lot of you will miss out. 

"That was devastating. That's a death sentence to cystic fibrosis patients waiting for Trikafta because their lung capacity will diminish and they will die."

He says he would sell government shares in pharmaceutical companies to pay for increased funding and also took issue with the $1 billion cost of living package. 

"My daughter is one of those people who will be eligible for the $350 payment. She spoke to me last night and said, Dad, I don't get it. I'd much rather see that money go towards drugs for people who desperately need them now in order to stay alive. 

"I guess, ultimately, it's a question of priorities and this is what the Government's come up with this year."

When announcing Thursday's investment, Health Minister Andrew Little said the extra money would allow Pharmac to buy more medicines for Kiwis. 

"Pharmac has assured me it will use this funding to secure as many medicines on its list as it can, with a focus on better cancer treatments, to ensure as many New Zealanders as possible benefit from this biggest-ever increase to its medicines funding."

In a statement after the Budget was released, Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt said the agency was already working its way through what agreements it could now make with pharmaceutical suppliers.

"The funding increase now enables us to progress a request for proposals for immune checkpoint inhibitors for lung cancer. We had previously planned this for 2020 but had to postpone it due to the uncertainty of COVID’s impact at that time."

It also began formal consultation on proposals to fund medicines for conditions including breast cancer, blood cancer multiple sclerosis, hormone replacement and HIV.

But she acknowledged there "will always be medicines we won't be able to afford". 

"We will, however, be using our expertise to ensure we can secure as many treatments as possible."