More funding needed for cancer drugs

By Tumamao Harawira

New Zealand is not funding the number of cancer drugs it should be funding - that's according to Cancer Society chief executive Lucy Elwood, commenting following the private member's bill put forward by National's deputy leader, Dr Shane Reti.

The National Party wants to see the law changed so Kiwis can have their unfunded chemotherapy drugs administered by district health boards and cover the cost, National’s health spokesperson says.

“At the moment cancer medicines unfunded by Pharmac can only be administered in expensive private cancer facilities at a further cost to the patient. So not only are patients mortgaging their homes, taking out loans and using up all their savings to buy their desperately needed medicines that Pharmac won’t fund, they then have to pay tens of thousands of dollars on top of this to have these medicines administered."

Patient Voice Aotearoa chair Malcolm Mulholland supports the idea. "I think any steps taken to alleviate costs is a good move, and we have experienced this ourselves, where my wife Wiki had to source an unfunded drug. We had to access that privately. Because of that we had to pay a couple of thousand dollars."

Mullholland has become one of the main spokespeople for cancer drug reform in New Zealand following his wife's battle with cancer, and he says that this bill will be beneficial.

"There are lots of people and whānau who are in that predicament, so I think it's a good move. However, I still think we need to keep our eyes on the prize."

Mullholland also has some words of encouragement for Labour cabinet minister Kiritapu Allan after her diagnosis of stage 3 cervical cancer. "So we know with cervical cancer, the cancer Allan has been diagnosed with, there is one prominent drug that's not funded in New Zealand, that's funded in Australia. And that's Abiston."

According to the Cancer Society's  Lucy Elwood, there is still many things to work through. "Bit of a band-aid. Just paying for drugs in a district health board isn't gonna save the real problem, which is how do we increase the standard of cancer care in New Zealand."