Year in Review: About us

The next few pages give you an overview of what we do and don’t do, our role in New Zealand’s health system, and how we are improving health outcomes for Māori and Pacific peoples.

Working for New Zealand communities

We are the government health agency that decides which medicines, and some medical devices, are available to New Zealanders. When people get a prescription filled at a pharmacy, when they are vaccinated for free, or receive medicines in a public hospital they are benefitting from our work.

Globally, New Zealand is a small player representing just 0.1% of the medicines market - yet we pay some of the lowest prices in the world for medicines. This is because we negotiate with and encourage competition between pharmaceutical companies to reduce their prices.

Each year, we receive a fixed budget from the Government to achieve the best health outcomes for New Zealanders by:

  • making sure the medicines and devices already available stay available, and
  • deciding which other medicines have the highest priority for new funding.

After we decide to fund a medicine or related product, we want to make sure that everyone who will benefit from it, gets it. We are committed to ensuring equitable access to the treatments we have made available and that everyone uses them in the best way, so they get the full health benefits they offer.

Right now, more than 3.7 million New Zealanders use funded medicines. More people are getting the medicines they need, to help them live better, longer, and healthier lives. That’s what PHARMAC - Te Pātaka Whaioranga is all about.

Te Pātaka Whaioranga

Te Pātaka Whaioranga, ‘the storehouse of wellbeing’, sums up the part we play in managing and safeguarding something that is valuable to all New Zealanders – the pursuit of wellbeing.

The term was gifted to PHARMAC by our Kaumātua, Bill Kaua ONZM.

A pātaka has many literal and metaphorical associations in te reo Māori. It refers, literally, to the raised platform for food storage and protection of taonga, and is also a symbol of safeguarding of things that are precious to the community.

In the PHARMAC context, the concept of the pātaka symbolises a solid and reliable structure safeguarding the continuous flow of supplies, such as medicines and medical devices, and it’s our role to keep the flow constant and maintain availability for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

Our role in New Zealand's Health System

There are a range of organisations involved in medicines and medical devices sometimes there is confusion about the part we each play.

Buy or import medicines

PHARMAC makes contracts with medicines suppliers on behalf of New Zealand's public health system. Our contracts set the price of medicines and hold suppliers responsible for meeting New Zealand's demand for these medicines. We do not buy, import, sell or store medicines.

Exceptional circumstances

We approve funding for medicines to meet an individual person's health needs, in exceptional circumstances. For example, it may be appropriate for a person to use a medicine that isn't funded, or that is funded for other uses, but not for that person's particular health condition.

The main way we do this is through a process called a Named Patient Pharmaceutical Assessment (NPPA), where the person's doctor makes an application to PHARMAC on their behalf. In 2019/20 we approved over 2,500 new NPPA applications for patients across New Zealand.

Regulate medicines

Med safe, which is part of the Ministry of Health, is responsible for ensuring the safety, quality, and efficacy of medicines and related products.

Record adverse reactions

The Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring (CARM) records reports of adverse reactions to medicines. This is a contract managed by the Ministry of Health.

Hospital medical devices

We're becoming more involved in deciding what medical devices are used in public hospitals, and our work is enabling DHBs to invest more money in the areas that matter for patients. Hospitals use a huge range of devices from cotton swabs to orthopaedic implants, dialysis machines and MRI scanners.

We are negotiating contracts for terms, such as price and supply continuity, to ensure consistency across public hospitals. Eventually, we will manage expenditure for medical devices from within a fixed budget, like we do for medicines.