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Pharmac off the table but still under election fire

Nov 21st, 2011 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

TABLE TALK: Tim Groser, right, fronts the media with Bill English. (Source:

A PHARMACY expert says he doesn’t trust Trade Minister Tim Groser’s statements about not trading Pharmac, but thinks the minister’s stance is “totally appropriate”.

Dr John Dunlop says big pharmaceutical companies are likely to put more pressure on trade negotiations following statements by Mr Groser this week that Pharmac would not be traded.

“Those pharmaceutical companies are the worst of any used car salesman. They have three lobbyists for every member of the senate,” says Dr Dunlop.

“We’re talking about billions of dollars, not millions, and if they get away with it we’re in for a rough time.”

Dr Dunlop is involved in pharmaceutical research and advising organisations, hospitals and doctors on practice.

He says Mr Groser’s statements are appropriate because it is trying to work with another country, so it is difficult for the government to be more transparent about the details of the negotiations.

Mr Groser has made public statements saying Pharmac is “fundamentally” off the negotiating table.

“We’re not going to dismantle it or undermine the processes that make it most effective,” the minister says.

He and Prime Minister John Key have both made statements to the effect that Pharmac will not be affected by the negotiations.

However, neither has outright denied the possibility that some changes could be made to the way Pharmac operates, Groser saying he will not negotiate in public through the media.

“The fundamentals neither of Pharmac specifically nor New Zealand’s public health system more generally are up for negotiation,” says Mr Groser.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman is adamant demanding transparency in the trade negotiations.

“The TPP is much more than just trade, it could affect our ability to draft health laws, restrict foreign ownership, and impact on Pharmac’s drug purchasing policies,” says Dr Norman

“When such important matters are being negotiated access to information is essential to have an informed debate in the public arena.”

The TPP is a free trade agreement being negotiated between nine countries including New Zealand and the United States, and if Japan joins it would be an economic group 40% larger than the EU according to news reports.

Documents were leaked this year which show possible changes to trade rules which would curb New Zealand’s ability to provide cheap drugs through crown entity Pharmac.

The leaked documents reveal plans to change trade rules, furthering the ability of giant companies to hold a monopoly on pharmaceutical products.

The most recent round of negotiations at the APEC conference in Honolulu has just finished, and will continue in December after the election.

“The argument the drug companies have put forward is that Pharmac keeps medication away from New Zealand and that’s bullshit,” says Dr Dunlop.

“In the US, the price of drugs goes up 15 per cent every year, and that’s compounding.”

Pharmac keeps medicine prices in New Zealand on average half the price of those in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US.

The crown entity was criticised during the last election for not subsidising breast cancer treatment drug Herceptin.

“What didn’t come out is that 78 people have to take [Herceptin] for a year for one person to benefit, and the second thing is that 50 per cent of those taking it experience a cardiovascular problem that needs treatment,” says Dunlop.

Research from Arizona in 1997 (Drs Bootman, Harrison and Cox), shows for every dollar spent on drugs in nursing facilities, $1.33 in resources is consumed in treating [medical] drug related problems.

Labour has said that if elected, Pharmac will be a bottom line which will not be traded away.

The Green Party policy includes a ban direct to consumer drug advertising, investigating patent issues and requiring gifts or funding from pharmaceutical companies to be disclosed by law.

The Mana Party says it will support the Pharmac model of affordable medicines and protect it from drug company cartels through unfair trade agreements.

Dr Dunlop says he hopes there will be a free trade agreement and understands why the government has not been so transparent about the negotiation details.

U.S. President Obama said at APEC last week that the whole Asia Pacific region is absolutely critical to US prosperity, but Dr Dunlop says the US has a history of breaking trade agreements.

“I’m not even sure I want a free trade agreement with America, I’m not sure I actually trust them.”

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