Cancer patient joins calls for Govt to fund administration of privately-purchased medication

Andrew Speir
Andrew Speir says people should not be forced to crowd fund to pay to have their cancer drugs administered. Photo credit: Andrew Speir

A man paying $2000 a week to get a bowel cancer drug injected has joined calls for the Government to fund the administration of privately-purchased cancer drugs.

National Party deputy leader Dr Shane Reti is trying to rush a bill through Parliament to make that happen.

However Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson has said it will add to existing health inequalities.

Robertson said the Government is focusing on making more publicly funded cancer treatments available, rather than supporting those who are funding the drugs privately.

Auckland man Andrew Speir is battling bowel cancer, and he has spent $15,000 obtaining a drug he has to pay to get administered.

He told First Up that his oncologist recommended that he take Folfox which is a publicly administered drug.

"But if I wanted to get the most out of my chemo there was a option for me to start Avastin which works beautifully with chemotherapy because it's actually chemotherapy that tries to stop the cancer from spreading but the Avastin cuts off the blood vessels the cancer creates, so it cuts off the food supply, so they work hand in hand really well."

Speir said his parents immediately offered to pay for it but he did not want that as they are both retired and would have been using their savings.

"So a very good friend of mine Janine started up a Give-a-little page and we managed to raised $44,000 for me and that covered the drug and the private treatment for about a year."

Speir said he was told that publicly funded Avastin was not available because it would help so many people that it would take up too much public funding.

He said he understands that there are demands on Pharmac to fund drugs for a range of illnesses but the drug funding agency does not get enough money from the Government.

"What I'm hoping with Shane Reti's bill is that it's a step in the right direction to stop people having to give up this drug because they've run out of money because of the cost of private hospitals."

Speir said he rejects the idea that if the bill passes it will just lead to "rich people taking up seats".

"Like man, I'm 36 years old, I earn $400 a fortnight and I live with my parents. How wealthy am I?"

Speir said those with money will continue to pay for their drugs through the private system.

"Cause the thing is if you're a wealthy person and you're getting all of your cancer drugs privately, there's a reason for that, it's cause you don't want to wait in line and you have the money to afford it and you're most likely have health insurance to help you."

Speir said people should not be forced to crowd fund to pay for having their cancer drugs administered.

Speir's traumatic diagnosis

Speir was living in London when he was first diagnosed with cancer. Speir was twice told he had diverticulitis and given antibiotics - but after a hospital visit because he was in severe pain he found things did not improve.

"Over the course of the next two weeks I lost about 10kgs, started turning yellow and I wasn't really walking around work, I wasn't able to do much because I was in quite a physical job roasting coffee, so I couldn't really do anything except push buttons on the roaster."

Speir said when his boss returned from a week's holiday he asked him why he was looking so unwell and sent him back to hospital.

"The next day I ended up having emergency life saving surgery because I almost died because basically I hadn't eaten in a week and I hadn't really been going to the toilet at all and the tumour had grown so big.

"So they put me into this emergency surgery and six hours later I woke up with like a 30cm scar down my abdomen and a poop bag for a stoma."

Speir said he spent four-and-a-half weeks in hospital recovering.

A week after he got out of hospital Speir received a call telling him that he had stage four cancer and that it was not curable.

"The decision to come back to New Zealand was not made lightly but I figured it was probably much easier to fight this in a place where I'm around family and I have people that can really help me out and look after me."

Speir said if he had stayed in London he probably would have been able to get the treatment he needed but would have been without his family.