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Too little, too late? Advocates underwhelmed by cancer plan


Just two days after the Parliamentary Health Select Committee quietly rejected Metavivors’ calls for Kadcyla and Palbociclib (Ibrance) to be funded for breast cancer sufferers and for an inquiry into Pharmac; Labour has today unveiled the first part of its ‘Interim Cancer Action Plan’.

“We welcome National and Labour's recent acknowledgement that cancer care in New Zealand is in crisis and that a Cancer Action Plan must urgently be implemented,” says Patient Voice Aotearoa Chair – and Metavivor petitioner – Malcolm Mulholland. “However it feels like Labour is still failing to address the elephant in the room – that New Zealand sits at the bottom of the OECD for access to medicines that could save or prolong hundreds of lives a year.”

Jacinda Ardern today called Labour’s cancer plan announcement “a first step in reducing regional variations in cancer treatment.” Patient Voice Aotearoa supports Labour’s investment in radiation treatment for cancer sufferers in Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki and Northland in a bid to remedy one part of the inequities in New Zealand cancer care. But there is no immediate hope in sight for patients campaigning for access to the 30 cancer medicines currently languishing on Pharmac’s waiting list.

Lung Foundation New Zealand Chief Executive and PVA Trustee Philip Hope said “I am encouraged by the announcement, acknowledging we are patiently waiting to see what additional resourcing needs have been provided for in the cancer plan.

“New Zealand desperately needs investment in almost every stage of the continuum of cancer care, including more medicines, with leadership by an independent cancer agency. So far as today’s announcement, given the disparities that exist in Gisborne and the East Coast, I would have liked to see Tairawhiti included in the districts to receive a number of Linear Accelerators to provide radiation treatment and improve access to this form of cancer care” said Philip.

However today’s announcement and the Health Select Committee’s refusal to urge the Minister of Health and Pharmac to fund life extending medicines and to recommend an inquiry into Pharmac have left “many people with cancer – and other illnesses – believing that this Government does not value the right of New Zealanders to live” says Malcolm, whose wife Wiki was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in 2018.

“So many women have left this earth since we started this journey in October last year. These women spent what little time they had left pleading with this Government to properly fund cancer medicines and to fix Pharmac so that other New Zealanders don’t suffer and die years before patients in Australia where modern medicines are properly funded,” says Malcolm.

“Minister of Health David Clark has today promised that the Interim Cancer Action Plan – which was tabled for release months ago – will be released in full later this month. We’ve been waiting and waiting and with all due respect to the Minister, if there’s one thing cancer sufferers and their families don’t have it’s time” says Malcolm.

Lead petitioner and Metavivor, Terre Nicholson (formerly Maize), who relies upon fundraising via Givealittle – New Zealand’s surrogate drug funding agency – to stay alive says:

“We haven’t wasted our time. We’ve spread awareness and the fight for better patient outcomes has just begun. The Health Select Committee, Pharmac and Labour may stall until my voice is stilled, but there are others who will continue to express the need to fix our broken system. Since we presented the petition in October 2018, we have lost 19 Metavivors, many due to lack of treatment options in New Zealand. The Government claims to be compassionate and caring, but it's clear that they don't care about us.”

“If the Government believe that Pharmac’s inadequacies and the sorry state of medicines funding in New Zealand have now been swept under the carpet, then they are sadly mistaken,” says Malcolm. “Since Metavivors marched to Parliament last October, other disease and illness organisations, and the patients they represent, have joined together under the banner of ‘Patient Voice Aotearoa’.

“We are currently surveying our options – from direct protest action, to taking the Government to court for not valuing the right to live, to launching our own political party. We will leave no stone unturned until the crisis in cancer treatment – and a range of other diseases – is addressed and New Zealanders gain access to life saving and extending medicines.”

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