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Government funding boost for Pharmac announced, but it doesn't go far enough for some cancer sufferers

The Government has boosted Pharmac’s funding by $160 million over the next four years to ensure Kiwis can keep getting medicine when global supply chains have been disrupted by the pandemic.

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The Government boosted funding for Pharmac to make sure we get the drugs we need but the injection doesn't go far enough for some. Source: 1 NEWS

The chief executive of the Government medicine buying agency, Sarah Fitt, welcomed the funding boost, saying she’s comfortable with how much funding Pharmac’s received to deal with the issue at this stage.

“If we found that that wasn’t sufficient, we would obviously go back to the Government and explain what the situation is but it’s impossible really to know if things will change over the next year,” she said.

The Government announced a one-off payment of $35 million for Pharmac to deal with increased medicine costs as a result of the pandemic in March.

Quarantines put in place in countries as a result of Covid-19 have led manufacturing to be delayed or halted.

“There's an increase in price, but also the impact of freight costs getting medicines into New Zealand has increased dramatically,” Ms Fitt said.

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Health Minister David Clark says spending on healthcare has become more important in light of Covid-19. Source: 1 NEWS

"There is difficulty in obtaining stock of some critical medicines as other countries are restricting exports to maintain their own supply chain," a Pharmac spokesperson said in a statement.

"An example of this is propofol, a commonly used anaesthetic sedative, which Pharmac is attempting to source from an alternative supplier to ensure projected additional demand can be met," she said.

Increased costs have also come from Pharmac widening access to a number of medicines to reduce the amount of people going to hospitals for assessments or treatment during the pandemic and the current situation stopping a number of planned major savings transactions being able to happen.

"The planned savings transactions have had to be delayed or have been withdrawn due to the unavailability of health sector stakeholders to feed into decision-making processes."

"And due to disruptions in medicine supply chains which have, in the short term, diverted suppliers attention to managing their existing portfolios," the spokesperson said.

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt said the added costs as a result of the pandemic have also forced the postponement of a number of plans to progress the purchase of drugs including for lung cancer.

Michele James, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018 and has paid $110,000 for treatment so far, said it was another blow.

“Each treatment you go to, and talk to people there and “Oh yes, it’s looking promising” and then gone… It builds you up and then just takes it away again, it's just like really defeating and frustrating,” she said.

Her partner Clive said he thinks the postponement with seeking proposals for immunotherapy lung cancer drugs including Keytruda is an excuse.

“A kick in the guts… it’s just been one excuse after another,” he said.

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt said procurement plans have been put on hold until there’s confidence there’s enough money to pay for the treatment.

"There is considerable uncertainty around the availability of Combined Pharmaceutical Budget for a new investment of this magnitude," she said in a statement.

National health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said it was "pathetic" that $10 million of extra funding has been allocated for the next year out of the $160 million announced today for the next four years.

“That's going to put an extraordinary amount of pressure even on business as usual because of the increased costs of medicines and transport costs,” he said.

“This isn’t going anywhere near what’s needed just to stand still.”