Greens and ACT scoff at National's cancer agency plans

ACT leader David Seymour is accusing National of saying one thing but doing another. 

The Opposition is pledging a national cancer agency and a $200 million fund for buying cancer drugs if it is elected. National leader Simon Bridges made the announcement at the party's annual conference on Sunday.

But Seymour says National is constantly complaining there is too much bureaucracy in the health system.

"How on Earth it's a worthwhile monument to those New Zealanders who have been lost to cancer - including some in my family - to set up a new bureacracy, when normally you complain there's too much bureaucracy in the health system, is beyond me."

Green MP Gareth Hughes is asking why National didn't do it during its nine years of Government. He told Magic Talk's Sunday Cafe they left behind plenty of problems.

"Coming out with a policy now is one thing, but when we literally saw sewerage running down the walls of Middlemore and a systemic underfunding in hospital infrastructure and DHB funding, people are going to be asking, are National serious on this issue?" 

Hughes is also questioning whether $200 million is enough.

But the Cancer Society is breathing a sigh of relief regardless, happy National has seemingly has a change of heart.

Medical director Dr Chris Jackson told Newshub he welcomes the U-turn.

"This was something they opposed under Jonathan Coleman and something Judith Collins had criticised also. It's clear now there is cross-party support." 

In 2017, Dr Coleman said it was not the Government's job to choose which medicines get funded.

"Government's job is to make sure they're funded. Then essentially [Pharmac] moves through a list of medicines that do the greatest good for the greatest number of people," he told health bosses, Stuff reports.

"That has been an extremely successful model that has saved hundreds of millions, which has enabled that money to be reinvested into more drugs."

That's now Labour's position, with Health Minister David Clark saying politicians shouldn't be interfering with Pharmac's decisions.

"Ultimately, these decisions are made by clinical experts and I think it is really important that politicians don't second-guess those clinical decisions," he said in April.

Studies overseas have found limited effectiveness of dedicated cancer agencies. New Zealand already has one of the highest survival rates in the OECD, but lags behind Australia. 

Dr Jackson says the devil will be in the detail of the new scheme.

"They've got to ensure that if you're funding new cancer drugs, that you're also funding the staff that will deliver those."

He said if the investment is rolled out wrong, it will put pressure on other parts of the health system.