New Zealand can and should have better drug buying system - advocate Richard Vines

New Zealand can and should be doing better to provide drugs for cancer patients, according to a visiting advocate.

Australian cancer patient advocate Richard Vines is in New Zealand to speak to Parliament alongside Professor John Zalcberg who on Tuesday called out New Zealand for falling behind Australia in treatment.

Mr Vines told The AM Show he didn't realise the visit would make headlines as he thought New Zealand had reached a consensus that we're lagging behind for access to cancer medicines.

"On the New Zealand Labour website... it says, 'people that are diagnosed with cancer in Australia are more likely to survive than those diagnosed in New Zealand and Australians have better access to cancer drugs than we do in New Zealand'," he said.

Drugs like debrafenib and crizotinib have been funded in Australia, but not New Zealand.  Both have been found to help treat different cancers.

"[Crizotinib is] available in over 50 countries around the world, there's probably 100 patients in New Zealand that would benefit. If they received it, the improvements are 50 percent" Prof Zalcberg told Radio NZ on Monday.   

Mr Vines said the lack of access to cancer treatment drugs is leading to thousands dying earlier than they need to, which could be avoided.

"It's very difficult, and I'm not an expert on the local system, but the data that I've seen seems pretty clear that [2500] is a reasonable estimate of people dying prematurely or unnecessarily," he said.

"We know that sometimes cancer is not curable, but if you've got a choice of dying tomorrow or dying in five or 10 years' time, I know which one I'm going to take."

Mr Vines said Australia's system for buying medicines isn't perfect, but the country has been able to buy new drugs since 2008 without a huge increase in expenditure so cost should not be a factor.

Christchurch resident Sue Sherbud knows the pain of not having access to life saving medicines personally.

Her husband has stage four lung cancer and is expected to need a new drug, which she did not name, that is currently unfunded.

Ms Sherbud's family will instead have to pay around $10,000 a month for the cancer treatment. She said situations like hers means some families end up making tough decisions to pay for drugs.

"For those people that have saved for their retirement or that have equity in their home, they have to give those things up," she said.

But on top of the cost, medicines are just taking too long to approve. Ms Sherbud said the average three years it takes to get a drug brought to New Zealand is too much.

"Three years is a life time and in fact many people with this kind of diagnosis don't have that time," she said.

"So you want access to those drugs and it needs to be faster and you shouldn't be forced to go offshore."