No Pacific voice with recently announced Pharmac review

The president of the Pacific Pharmacists’ Association, Kasey Brown, is disappointed that a government led Pharmac review has not consulted her organisation or has not included a Pacific representative on its panel, especially when one of the issues they will be addressing is equity amongst Pacific people.

Pharmac is the government’s drug buying agency and decides what lifesaving and life transforming drugs are made available to New Zealanders. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister Andrew Little announced a panel of experts will lead an independent review of the agency, focusing on the timeliness and transparency of decision making. It will also consider the issue of equity, including access to medicines and medical devices for Pacific communities.

Brown, who is also a member of the Pasifika Medical Association (PMA), is one of 38 Pacific pharmacists in New Zealand and she is disappointed that there is no Pacific representation on the panel to give a voice to the 300,000 Pacific people in New Zealand. In fact, the head of the Pacific Pharmacists’ Association was not contacted about the review and only found out about it a day after the announcement was made.

“It blows my mind that we were not consulted. I don’t want to put Pharmac into a situation because we normally collaborate with each other. But it’s very disappointing that there is not going to be a Pacific voice, especially when they are going to be looking at equity for our Pacific peoples.”

Many Pacific families suffer from illnesses like diabetes and cardiology issues and rely on a daily dose of medication to survive. Brown says the community face many cultural barriers when visiting a pharmacy. The main issue that she has come across in her Gisborne pharmacy is the community not being able to comprehend the collective impact of modern medicines.

“There is a lack of understanding and fear within our community when they are not use to their medication. For example, for one condition you may need one to four medications to treat it. For example, with diabetes you can be on insulin as well as oral medication. There’s a lack of understanding why you may need both when they do two completely different things to help manage that condition.

It’s about understanding and getting our Pacific families to engage with us so we can bridge that gap.”

The independent review will focus on two key areas. Firstly, how well Pharmac is performing against its current objectives and whether this could be improved. And secondly, whether Pharmac’s current objectives maximise its potential to improve health outcomes for all New Zealanders as part of the wider health system and whether these objectives should be changed.

The review will consider the following factors when answering the two questions above:

• The timeliness of Pharmac’s decision making                                                                                                

• The transparency and accessibility of its decision making

• Equity – including access to medicines and devices for Māori and Pacific peoples.

The independent review panel will be chaired by the former Consumer chief executive Sue Chetwin and will include corporate governance consultant Frank McLaughlin, health and governance expert Heather Simpson, pharmacist prescriber Leanne Te Karu, preventative and social medicine professor Sue Crengle and disability advocate Dr Tristram Ingham.

Brown says that the review is needed, and she will approach Pharmac to offer her contribution as a practicing senior Pacific pharmacist.

“I think the review is a good idea. We need to understand where money is being spent and what is going to benefit the wider population.”

The review is expected to run until the end of the year with an interim report in August and a final report in December.


Date: Thursday 04 March 2021