National criticises pre-Budget handouts: 'Will there be more money going to horse racing than Pharmac?'

The National Party is criticising the Government’s priorities after it gave a $72.5 million emergency support package for the racing industry, while Pharmac received a $10m funding increase for the next financial year.

The $10m boost is part of a $160m package for the drug-buying agency over four years as part of this week's Budget. The Government also announced a one-off investment of $35m as a response to Covid-19 last month.

Paula Bennett, deputy leader of the National Party, asked in the House today: “Will there be more money going to horse racing than Pharmac in this Budget?”

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said this wasn't the case.

“Absolutely not … but, since the member raises it, it is worth noting that the 15,000 people directly employed by the racing industry and the 60,000 indirectly employed by the racing industry will be pleased to know that the Government values all jobs in New Zealand.”

National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said the difference in investment in the financial year between Pharmac and the racing industry was “a damning indictment of the Government’s priorities”.

“There is going to be increased pressure for medicines as a result of the Covid-19 crisis and we need to be prepared. It is insulting to give more money to horses than health during a pandemic.

“We welcome the much-needed funding for our District Health Boards this morning. But DHBs had a net deficit of over $1 billion last year and this funding isn’t even going to cover that.”

The Government today also announced an additional $3.9 billion boost to DHBs, pulling the annual DHB bill up to $15b.

“Now we’re seeing the Government prioritise horses over essential medicines," he added.

Racing Minister Winston Peters said today the Government was giving the industry $72.5 million in an emergency support package.

"We are going to make racing great again," he said.

Mr Peters said Covid-19 upheaval meant the racing industry was facing an "unparalleled crisis in its history".

"It's taken the industry to the brink of insolvency," Mr Peters said, adding it's caused a "dramatic plunge in revenue while costs have remained fixed".

Meanwhile, the Health Minister said on Sunday the increased Pharmac funding would allow Kiwis to keep getting medicine while global supply chains continue to be disrupted by Covid-19.

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

"Since Budget 2019, 13 new medicines have been approved by Pharmac to become publicly funded, including six new cancer treatments,”  Dr David Clark said.

"In fact, in the last two years, more than 200,000 New Zealanders have benefited from 65 additional or widened access subsidised medicines."

In September last year, the Government announced an extra $60 million in Pharmac funding for 2019/20/21. 

However, some said it didn’t go far enough. 

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. 

RNZ revealed plans to publicly fund key lung cancer drug Keytruda was frozen because of concerns of rising drug prices in the pandemic. However, Ms Fitt said it still hoped to fund it in the future.

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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

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.