Duncan Garner complains on air to Chief Ombudsman for Pharmac inquiry

News 11/04/2019

The AM Show host Duncan Garner has complained to the Chief Ombudsman live on air about the lack of funding given to life-extending breast cancer drugs.

On Thursday, Kiwi cancer patient Claudine Johnstone told The AM Show she feels Labour has told her to "go off in a corner and quietly die" by not urgently responding to her concerns about a lack of funding for life-extending drugs.

The Health Select Committee on Wednesday voted against an inquiry into Pharmac's decision-making processes as a drug-buying agency. Three Labour MPs and one New Zealand First MP opposed it.

Pharmac is currently considering funding drug Ibrance, but National MP Michael Woodhouse, who called for the inquiry, is concerned with the drug-buying agency's timeliness.

Johnstone said she is no longer getting assurances from Health Minister David Clark that "things were going to improve in New Zealand".

We've actually been told that we have hurt David Clark's feelings by speaking out

"I'm offended. I actually feel like the message we got from Labour is I should just go off in a corner and quietly die and not say anything because I'll tarnish their reputation."

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier appeared on The AM Show to discuss his new role with Oranga Tamariki, but he felt Johnstone's interview was so powerful, he wanted to discuss how the role of the Ombudsman was important for people who feel voiceless.

"It really reinforced to me the importance in New Zealand of someone like the Ombudsman, the Ombudsman who is independent," he told The AM Show.

"It does reinforce, in my view, that for New Zealand to retain its integrity, we do need the watch dog like the Ombudsman and I find the role satisfactory from that point of view."

Garner said he felt compelled to complain about how breast cancer sufferers were being treated.

Can you please take this oral complaint or submission: Dear Peter, I am worried about a whole bunch of women who are facing certain death and have to go Australia for cancer treatment

"Is there some possible way for the Ombudsman to make this happen in New Zealand?"

The role of the Ombudsman is to independently handle complaints against Government agencies and undertake investigations. It can also initiate its own investigations when there is need.

 

Credit: The AM Show

"We have the ability to initiate an inquiry ourselves, we will look at complaints and follow them through. We have got the ability to look at a state agency such as the Ministry of Health and to inquire as to whether or not the administration of something has been reasonable," Boshier told The AM Show.

While he couldn't give Garner a definitive answer to if an inquiry would be held, he did say his office has "the power to look into things like this".

Garner also asked Boshier if he could look into Pharmac.

"Do you have the power to look into Pharmac's drug-buying decisions?

"Honestly, Peter, it just seems so damn ridiculous that we are even having this debate when as human beings we kind of know what to do and what is right, but we are not doing it."

Again, Boshier couldn't commit to an inquiry, but reinforced his office is "feisty" in getting to the bottom of things.

"We are pretty fearless at looking at an issue and analysing whether what is being done is right or wrong, and reporting on it…We have probably got one of the best resourced offices in the world."

At the end of the interview, Garner said he would definitely be following up with a written complaint.

Labour MP defends select committee
 

Labour MP Louisa Wall, who chairs the Health Select Committee, defended her decision to object to an inquiry on Thursday by saying there was an inquiry already underway into Pharmac by the Māori Affairs Select Committee.

She also said any inquiry by the Health Select Committee wouldn't be independent and instead it would recommend another entity undertakes a review.

If we do an inquiry, guess who gets to advise us? The Ministry of Health and Pharmac. It's inappropriate

"The fact we don't think the Health Select Committee is independent means that we will advise the House that we think either the Law Commission should undertake a review, or that Treasury should undertake a review with a specific focus on an early-access scheme, and provide options to the Government on how we can better serve people with cancer."

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Jamie Ensor