MPs back Pharmac inquiry despite voting against it

Newstalk ZB ,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 10 April 2019, 5:14p.m.
Breast cancer survivors and their supporters have been calling for an inquiry. (Photo / Getty)

A Labour MP is denying that Health Minister David Clark ordered his party to vote against holding an inquiry into Pharmac. 

Labour and New Zealand First MPs on the health select committee today voted against holding an inquiry into the Government's drug-buying agency, despite submissions from women with advanced breast cancer.

The health select committee has been considering a petition signed by close to 34,000 people calling for Pharmac to fully fund cancer drugs Ibrance and Kadcyla.

Ibrance, when taken in conjunction with other drugs, can inhibit the progress of breast cancer and potentially prolong the life of the patient, clinical trials show.

Australia announced last week that Ibrance would be publicly funded there. In New Zealand. it costs around $6000 per month.

Malcolm Mulholland, the husband of Wiki Mulholland who has breast cancer, was at Parliament today to hear the decision of the select committee.

He was devastated to learn that the three Labour MPs had voted against it.

Mulholland didn't know how he was going to tell his wife of 20 years, who was one of the women with advanced breast cancer who have made emotional pleas to the committee to push Pharmac to fund Ibrance and Kadcyla and hold an inquiry into the agency.

"I'm just gutted," he said.

"The result of this decision is that people with advanced cancer, including breast cancer, will die sooner than they should. Why? Because the New Zealand system of funding drugs is broken."

Mulholland told reporters that committee chairwoman Labour MP Louisa Wall told him that Clark was blocking the inquiry. 

However, Wall denied the claims. She told Larry Williams that no one asked her to block approving an inquiry. 

"The select committee has made their decision themselves." 

However, the issue is that the committee does not believe they are independent enough to hold an inquiry themselves, as they get their information from the Ministry of Health and Pharmac themselves. 

Wall says that if it would be truly independent, it should be done outside of Parliament by an entity such as the Law Commission or the Treasury to hold an inquiry.

"As a Health Select Committee, we don't have the authority to compel both the Law Commission or the Treasury to provide these independent inquiries, but we were certainly be highlighting the recommendations in our report back to the House based on the petition we have been hearing.

"I want to put on record that we are responding absolutely to the call for an independent inquiry." 

She denies that she spoke with Mulholland, as their discussion is not about his calls for an inquiry. 

"As a committee, we have not even discussed it. Our priority from the beginning of this process has been to hear from the Metavivors." 

Clark also denies the claims. 

"I have not said anything to the members of the select committee privately that I haven't said publically. I think Pharmac does a really good job of making sure we have amongst the cheapest medicines in the world," Clark said.

Clark has repeatedly said there was no need for an inquiry into Pharmac, despite claims it is outdated.

"The health committee will have been aware of my views but it makes its own decisions. I respect the role select committees play as a watchdog on ministers and I would never interfere with their independence," he said.

Wall says that the select committee will be tabling a report in Parliament, which will be received by Clark, and they will likely be explicitly recommending an inquiry.

"Once that happens, the balls in his court." 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern later told reporters that she has asked Clark to look into the issue of early access to new drugs. 

"I do think there are questions to be asked around early access to new drugs. That's something that I've asked the Minister to undertake some work on because that where we see, time and time again, questions being raised," Ardern told reporters.

She said that while select committees had the power to investigate and make recommendations, they could not make changes.

"If we do want to look into the issue of early access which is an area where Pharmac, for all its strengths, that's one area I think is worthy of consideration. That's much more quickly able to be done by a Minister."

Clark said work was underway on looking at Pharmac's commitments on early intervention schemes.

He said it was completely understandable that people with late-stage cancer and their families would want access to publically funded medicines.

"The truth is that with Pharmac, they have a process under way. They are looking at these medicines currently," he told reporters.

Drug companies Pfizer and Roche, which make Ibrance and Kadcyla respectively, are awaiting a decision by the Pharmacology and Therapeutic Advisory Committee on whether their application for Pharmac funding has been successful. That decision is due in May.

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