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The Health Minister’s first act of 2020 should be to establish a ministerial inquiry into PHARMAC’s decision to switch to Logem – the generic form of epilepsy drug lamotrigine – given it’s now suspected to have caused five deaths, National’s Health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says.

“PHARMAC’s decision to only fund Logem affected about 90 per cent of patients with epilepsy. Given the scale of that change, it’s imperative that questions around the proposed risks are answered.

“The tragic news that it’s suspected to have caused the death of a young father just before Christmas, as well as four deaths reported earlier in 2019, suggests the brand switch put lives at risk.

“Medsafe and patients raised concerns about the switch before it went ahead.

“While a coronial investigation is ongoing, questions remain about whether or not Health Minister David Clark was involved in the decision-making process and why PHARMAC appears not to have taken action when news of a patient’s death was first received.

“News of a possible fifth death in relation to the switch to Logem only increases questions around whether the risks of the drug switch were appropriately assessed.

“What’s more, it appears PHARMAC knew about the first patient death possibly being linked to the drug switch and took no action for a month. The public deserves to know why.

“The ministerial inquiry that National has been calling for since November is the appropriate way of getting those answers. It will consider all of the issues in relation to the brand switch, something the coroner cannot do.”

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