In the pouring rain outside Parliament, dozens of people took part today in a Lie Down for Life protest calling for better access to modern medicines – with hundreds participating in solidarity across the country.
The petition calls on the Government to conduct an external reform of Pharmac, and to double the budget the drug-buying agency currently receives.
Patient Voice Aotearoa’s chairperson, Malcolm Mulholland, read out the names of 50 New Zealanders who have died due to a lack of access of drugs, including Blair Vining’s name.
“It is a disgrace, and completely at odds with the current Government’s ‘be kind’ rhetoric. It is quite simple — unless the Government acts, New Zealanders will continue to die without adequate access to modern medicines,” Mulholland said.
“Kiwis are becoming medical refugees and fleeing to Australia to access medicine that they should be able to access here,” he said.
“The Government needs to do something about this. It’s too late for them — the people that need this stuff now need it now. Sort it out, be kind,” one of the protestors said while looking directly at Health Minister Andrew Little.
Little said: “It is the job of all of us to make sure we have a health system — all parts of the health system that serves the needs of all New Zealanders — that is there to provide the support and the treatment, the diagnosis, that all New Zealanders need when they need it. That is a big challenge and an ongoing one."
National’s deputy leader, Shane Reti, said: “Why would you change the circumstance to meet the policy? Change the policy to meet the circumstance."
“I think it is a disgrace that we had a once-in-a-generation chance to review Pharmac and they explicitly excluded funding from the inquiry,” ACT's deputy leader Brooke van Velden said.
“There is absolute inequity and injustice happening in access to the treatment and the medicines that people need. That must change, it can change,” Green’s co-leader Marama Davidson said.
Pharmac’s chief executive Sarah Fitt said she recognises the challenges faced by patients.
“It is the drug companies that benefit from the high prices of new medicines. We aim to give people access to new and effective medicines at a price that is fair and affordable, which is what New Zealanders expect us to do,” Fitt said.
Mulholland invited Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to receive the petition in Wellington, but he said Ardern declined.
Instead, ACT's van Velden accepted the petition.