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Health Minister Coleman says Maybe Melanoma Money

Thursday 3rd March 2016

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Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has told a conference of GPs, pharmacy professionals and consumers that funding for melanoma treatment is "not too far away".

On Monday, Coleman met thousands of campaigners at Parliament who were pressing for the government to direct drug-buying agency Pharmac to fund Keytruda, a new drug which can send tumours into remission. 

"The government ahead, we have a real challenge making the money provide all the services that benefits the greatest number of New Zealanders," Coleman said in a passage of his speech not included in the published notes. "In terms of melanoma I think actually, funded treatment is not too far away, but as I made very clear I think it’s also very important that politicians don’t reach in and interfere with the Pharmac model because if we did that, you’d suddenly find that area being used as a political football and actually we wouldn’t get the gains that we need overall”.  

Labour leader Andrew Little has said that funding the drug is more important than the flag referendum or future tax cuts.

The event, the National Stakeholder Forum for Integrated Pharmacist Services in the Community, was mainly focused on increasing the role of pharmacists within the health service in order to meet both a growing and aging population.

Coleman said there would be an extra 100,000 people in 2016 that the service would need to support.

"People are wanting to live in this country. We’re now positive 60,000 (immigration). In actual fact, when we looked at our figures for this year, we’ve actually got 107,000 people in the population that we’ve got to provide services for in this coming year," he said. "And that’s due to a combination of things, its immigration, Kiwis coming home, it’s also a little bit of an undercut by statistics New Zealand last year so you can see there’s always going to be more to do.”

The government is looking for pharmacists to do more, especially in tackling chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and dementia. "If we’re going to meet rising health demand, we’ve got to work in a different way to meet the needs of the population. I’m keen to see if we can further utilise the skills we have across the healthcare workforce and very specifically the pharmacy workforce," Coleman said.

In a short question and answer session after his speech, Coleman was asked whether there was a risk that GPs would oppose pharmacists taking an increase role, particularly if it meant losing funding.

“Obviously money always has to be worked through. But look I think there’s going to be plenty of work for everyone. I think the key to it is clear communication about what this involves," he said. "We’re not going to make sudden radical moves. I don’t think doctors’ should be threatened by this at all. The feedback I get from most doctors, frankly once they’ve reached 40, is they want more options, they want more flexibility, and I think working more closely with pharmacy colleagues can help free up their time to do other things.”

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