'Difficult situation': Cancer patient leads pleas for better Govt funding of treatments

A group of major cancer charities has united to call for better Government funding for new cancer treatments in New Zealand.

The charities say thousands of New Zealanders are dying unnecessarily because treatments that are considered standard care overseas aren't available here.

David Coomber and his wife Jackie are all too familiar with how indiscriminately cancer can strike, after David was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

"It was a complete shock actually," he told Newshub. "I've been pretty fit my whole life; active; never smoked."

The diagnosis came two years ago, and David was told the cancer has spread to the rest of his body.

"After initially being told with my diagnosis that it was un-survivable, I feel I've got a bit of hope now."

That's because he's using a drug called Ceritinib. It's not funded by Pharmac, but David is able to take it anyway, after being accepted to be part of a clinical trial.

The drug keeps David stable - but if it stops working, the next option is a newer drug that would cost him $6800 a month.

He says the situation isn't easy.

"What a difficult situation I'm in. How much of my savings do I spend on myself and how much do I leave for my family?"

In 2018, more than 23,000 New Zealanders were diagnosed with cancer. More than 9000 are expected to die.

Cancer is our biggest killer and causes 30 percent of all deaths in New Zealand.

CANGO, an alliance of eight major cancer non-profit organisations, wants the Government to introduce a rapid access scheme for new cancer treatments in New Zealand.

CEO of the Lung Foundation, Philip Hope, says the scheme is about timing.

"This is about giving patients access to treatments that work without delay, because with cancer access to medicines is access to life."

In a statement, Health Minister David Clark said there needs to be good evidence to support the case for funding new treatments.

He has officials assessing the performance of the English NHS Cancer Drugs Fund and expects to have a better idea of whether it can be adopted here by the end of this year.

Mr Hope says Pharmac's current funding model favours low value, high volume treatments and more expensive and effective treatments get delayed or denied.

"People are dying as a result, and cancer is a human condition and there's also a human solution. We're not applying a human solution in New Zealand. We're disadvantaging our most vulnerable patients."

Thousands of Kiwis who, like David, are desperate to spend as many days with their family as they can.