Protest calls for more drug spending

Dunedin patients’ rights advocate Camilla Cox is urging local people to join next Wednesday’s...
Dunedin patients’ rights advocate Camilla Cox is urging local people to join next Wednesday’s Patient Voice Aotearoa national day of action, fighting for increased Pharmac funding, including a ‘‘Lie Down for Life’’ protest in the Octagon. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD
Patients’ rights advocates will lie down on the job, as part of a nationwide day of action led by Patient Voice Aotearoa.

The organisation, which is petitioning the Government to increase funding to drug-buying agency Pharmac, will hold a "Lie Down for Life" protest in the Octagon next Wednesday, May 12.

Patient Voice Dunedin member Camilla Cox said the protest aims to both send a message, and raise awareness of the petition, which runs until the end of May.

So far, the petition has been signed by more than 100,000 people.

"We are calling for increased Pharmac funding, increased transparency, and set time-frames for Pharmac decisions on funding for individual drugs," Mrs Cox said.

Patient Voice Aotearoa was formed a couple of years ago to promote access to good health care for all New Zealanders, and involves a range of organisations from the Cancer Society to the Asthma Foundation.

The petition, which was launched in early 2020, calls on the government to double, and then triple, Pharmac’s $1 billion budget to bring New Zealand into line with the drug-spends of other OECD countries.

"In terms of how much we spend on medicine as a nation, we are really trailing behind, and that has an impact on health outcomes," she said.

"We are also calling for the Pharmac review process to follow international best practice - at present New Zealand is one of the slowest to approve the funding of medicines in the OECD.

"And while we are waiting [on funding approval], people are dying, or becoming increasingly unwell.

"Families are being bankrupted, taking out loans, or are setting up givealittle pages to try to raise money for treatment."

At the time the petition was launched early last year, Mrs Cox and her husband Julian towed a coffin from Dunedin to Parliament behind a tandem bicycle to raise awareness.

They were motivated to take the action on behalf of their daughter Rachael (20), who lives with cystic fibrosis.

"There is a treatment so effective that it virtually fixes the problem, but we can’t get it here in New Zealand.

"That’s cruel and heartbreaking - it makes us feel desperate and powerless, and we are not alone," she said.

The possibility that Pharmac may remove blanket funding of cancer drugs for children was even more reason for people to raise their voices in protest, Mrs Cox said.

She emphasised that the protest was not intended as an attack on Pharmac, which played a vital role in New Zealand health care.

"We definitely need Pharmac to haggle for us on the international drug market."

The "Lie Down for Life" protest will be held on Wednesday May 12, from 12.30pm in the upper Octagon. There will be an opportunity for people to share their stories from the stage if they wish.

brenda.harwood@thestar.co.nz

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