The usual suspects are trying to manufacture a scandal over Andrew Little having dinner with some Medical Industry big wigs in September last year and because Labour more recently has supported the drug Keytruder being funded by Pharmac.
The “scandal” to use that word in its most loosest sense was broken by Stacey Kirk in the Dominion Post. It may have well been written by Jonathan Coleman’s media advisors, such is the level of spin involved.
The headline to the story is “Andrew Little dines with drug company executives months before adopting Keytruda stance” which is correct at least in a temporal sense. The dinner occurred 6 months ago well before Little expressing interest in Keytruda as an issue. As far as I can ascertain the issue only arose in December 2015 when Pharmac decided not to fund Keytruda and Labour then started to formulate a position.
But this did not stop Kirk drawing what was an exceedingly unlikely conspiracy theory. From the article:
Drug company lobbyists were hosted at a special dinner by Labour leader Andrew Little, months before Labour announced its stance to override Pharmac and fund melanoma drug Keytruda.
Labour confirmed the dinner took place, understood to have been in Labour’s parliamentary offices, in September.
Organised by Pharma lobbying group Medicines NZ, the dinner also included representatives from Keytruda makers Merck Sharp and Dohme, Pfizer, Roche, Healthcare Logistics and Sanofi.
Little said he recalled a dinner, but was unsure of the timing.
“I’ve certainly met with health insurers, I’m not quite sure whether drug companies were represented there.”
His office clarified Little hosted both groups separately, late last year.
But Little said neither meeting had any influence on Labour’s current position, and there had “absolutely not” been any discussions around political donations from the drug companies.
“And I don’t get caught up in discussions about that, but I’m certainly not aware of any suggestions, hints at, offers of, contributions. It’s not the basis of which we would arrive at the position we’ve arrived at.”
The line of questioning was clearly of the “have you stopped beating your wife” variety. And I understand the topic of conversation at the dinner was the potential effects of TPP on Pharmac. Labour’s decision to oppose the TPP no doubt was upsetting to many of the attendees of the dinner.
Kirk also said this:
It’s understood there is deep disquiet within Labour, over the issue. It’s believed some MPs and wider party members are privately unhappy with the moves to interfere with Pharmac’s purchasing model.
She should have completed the first sentence and said that it was understood from Jonathan Coleman’s office that there is deep disquiet within the labour party. No one has mentioned it to me as an issue and those I have communicated with are surprised and annoyed at the insinuation. One day the media will stop running National smear lines against the Labour Party and start reporting on facts. It is a shame we are not there yet. Then to reinforce the effect Coleman gets to comment on how Labour is divided.
On social media the normal suspects on the right and those on the left who believe that Labour can do no good, no matter what, joined in.
If the media was really interested in the general issue of political influence it should ask how many times has John Key had dinner with industry representatives and then get him to deny that a change of policy is because of that dinner and that National has not received donations from that industry group.
Of course Little could refuse to meet with industry representatives. Yes that is as ridiculous as it sounds.
There is an argument that Pharmac should be allowed to make decisions of its own volition without political interference. In a perfect world perhaps. But National in 2008 broke the mould with its decision to direct the funding of Hercepton. So Labour should be forced to fight political battles with a hostile media and one hand tied behind its back?
And besides the drug is approved for use in Australia and in the United Kingdom. And there are recent reports that National has squeezed funding to Pharmac to the tune of $40 million a year to bolster the health spend in other areas. This would be more than enough to fund use of the drug for a significant number of cancer sufferers.
National clearly is in a difficult situation with Keytruda. What better way to minimise the damage than to get the media to run conspiracy theories about the Labour Party.