The Government has announced an independent review into the nation's drug purchasing agency, Pharmac.
The agency decides on behalf of district health boards which medicines and pharmaceutical products are subsidised for use in New Zealand community and public hospitals.
The review, announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today, will focus on how well Pharmac performs against its current objectives and whether and how its performance could be improved.
As well, it will focus on whether the agency's current objectives maximise its potential to improve health outcomes for all New Zealanders as part of the wider health system, and whether and how these objectives can be changed.
The review will consider the timeliness of Pharmac’s decision making, in particular for new medicines, as well as the transparency and accessibility of decision making processes, and equity, including access to medicines and devices for Māori and Pacific people.
Sue Chetwin, who is the former chief executive of Consumer New Zealand, will chair the review.
Also on the review panel is corporate governance and public law consultant Frank McLaughlin, experienced health economist and governance expert Heather Simpson, pharmacist prescriber Leanne Te Karu, Otago University's department of preventative and social medicine associate Professor Sue Crengle and disability advocate Dr Tristram Ingham.
Ardern today said the Government had increased funding to Pharmac since Labour took office in 2017, but she admitted "no system is perfect".
Ardern said she wanted to reassure the public that she hears their concerns.
"Through this review we'll ensure that people can, I hope, have confidence that Pharmac is making the best contribution it can to improving health outcomes for all New Zealanders.
"We have a good system, our challenge is to make it better."
Patient Voice Aotearoa (PVA) said in a statement this morning the review was "well overdue".
PVA said Pharmac "sees thousands of Kiwis stranded without appropriate pharmaceutical options, or with vastly inferior treatment options, for illnesses and conditions which are treated as a matter of course by countries less economically able than New Zealand".
"The lack of a considered or coherent medicines strategy and the piecemeal approach to funding drugs has led to gross inadequacies in the standard of care in Aotearoa.
"As many PVA members note 'Pharmac is all very well, until you’re sick'."
"It’s simply devastating to hear stories every day of Kiwis who are essentially being picked to die or live hugely compromised lives because medicines that are considered routine in other countries are out of reach to all but the wealthiest New Zealanders," PVA founder Malcolm Mulholland said.
"Givealittle should not be the only avenue for hope, but that’s all that many people have left."
Health Minister Andrew Little today said there was "a fair degree of political consensus to support" the review.
"This independent review is very important and significant step, it follows a pledge made last year to conduct a review of Pharmac."
Pharmac currently procures pharmaceuticals on a budget of just over $1 billion a year, Little said.
Last year, nearly four million New Zealanders received funded medicines that have been through the decisions of Pharmac.
There were 14 new medicines funded last year, including six cancer drugs, and 32 medicines had their access broadened due to Pharmac decisions.
"Pharmac, for nearly 28 years, has been a success story for New Zealand and is regarded with envy by many countries around the world. We wanted to make sure that it is doing the best job possible for all New Zealanders and that's a critical objective of this review," Little said.