Call for Pharmac to fund lifesaver

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 13/01/2014
Otto Richardson
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ
HELPING HAND: Saving teddy’s life is all in a day’s work for Otto Richardson, 2.

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Doctors are backing a campaign led by a Wellington mum for adrenaline syringes to be publicly funded, amid concerns families cannot afford the lifesaving devices.

Seatoun mother Helen Richardson has gathered more than 4000 signatures on an online petition launched just before Christmas, which calls for lifesaving auto-injectors to be funded by Pharmac.

The auto-injectors, such as EpiPen and AnaPen, are used to administer a dose of adrenaline to pull someone out of an extreme allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock.

The pens cost up to $180 and expire after a year.

An estimated 20,000 New Zealanders with severe allergies are advised to carry a pen.

Wellington mum Nicola Swan has three children - James, 14 months, Oliver, 2, and Marcus, 5 - who all have life-threatening allergies.

The family spend more than $1000 on the six EpiPens they need each year.

Last year, she and husband Graeme were forced to fundraise online to replace an EpiPen they used on Oliver after he went into anaphylactic shock at home after touching icing that contained egg whites.

"It was horrible, putting it out there in the public like 'we don't have enough money to save our kids lives' was just the most gut-wrenching thing."

Auckland City Hospital clinical immunologist Dr Miriam Hurst said they frequently saw families at the Allergy & Clinical Immunology Clinic who could not afford an injector.

"It's a significant financial barrier for a lot of our patients, who just cannot afford that up-front cost."

At most danger were those with allergies to bee or wasp venom, who needed to be given a shot within five minutes of being stung.

Auto-injectors are fully funded in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Allergy New Zealand adviser Penny Jorgensen said Pharmac's funding policy "completely fails to take into account the burden individuals and families living with the risk of anaphylaxis are carrying at their own expense".

Pharmac's director of operations Sarah Fitt said auto-injectors had "relatively poor" cost-effectiveness compared with other medicines being considered for funding.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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