Cancer patients call on Government to fund life-extending medicines

Cancer patients are calling on the Government to fund a drug called Cetux.

Bowel cancer patient Stephen Dunne has drained his life savings to pay for it, but it's allowed him to live long enough to meet his grandchildren.

Now he and other cancer advocates are calling on the next government to fund medicines like his, so other New Zealanders don't miss out.

A family man and soccer fan, Stephen Dunne is spending his last days fighting what he calls an unfair system.

"I hope to god someone in power will do something," he says.

He's had bowel cancer since 2014. His oncologist told him about a drug called Cetux that could extend his life.

Then he was told the price tag - $4000 a fortnight - $88,000 all up. It sounded impossible.

"I thought 'there's no way we can make that'," Stephen says.

He emptied his savings, took on debt and sold an apartment to pay for it - but his heart's with those that don't have that option.

"Really all they can do is die, because they do not have the funds," he says.

He and his daughter Kristen Dunne took their fight to Parliament - they want the Government to fund the drug.

"It's only really NZ's healthcare system that gives up on people and doesn't give them access to modern, effective medicines," Kristen says.

Those treating bowel cancer patients are deeply frustrated they can't offer the drug to their patients.

"In NZ we've got a two-tier system whereby people who can pay for drugs get better treatment and longer lives than the patients who don't get the treatment," consultant medical oncologist and Bowel Cancer NZ's medical advisor Dr Dragan Damianovich says.

Other cancer patients have been through the same fight but for different drugs.

Stuart and his wife Claudine Johnstone found access to breast cancer treatment so bad in New Zealand they moved to Australia. They're so-called cancer refugees.

Claudine spent her last months fighting for wider access to Kadcyla, and won.

"We've got five young children and the fight for it took away the time - there was frustration for Claudine when things weren't getting done," Stuart says.

The most recent application to Pharmac for Cetux was recommended by a cancer subcommittee for medium priority funding, but was ultimately declined.

Pharmac told Newshub opportunities for investment in new medicines will always exceed the budget Pharmac has available, so every medicine is ranked. It says it will keep making the best choices it can.

Both major parties are talking up Pharmac funding as a solution.