Government unveils new 10-year plan to tackle cancer

Pharmac will get a major funding boost and a new national cancer agency will be set up under long-awaited Government plans to help cancer sufferers.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark revealed their decade-long Cancer Action Plan on Sunday.

"Cancer touches just about every one of us at some stage in our lives. On average 66 people every day are diagnosed with cancer - and they deserve world-class care," Ardern said.

"We campaigned on improving cancer care and establishing a national cancer agency because after years of underfunding by the previous Government our standard of care is variable and we have work to do to ensure better outcomes for Māori and Pacific people."

The key points of the plan are:

  • an immediate funding boost for PHARMAC and faster decision-making processes
  • a Cancer Control Agency to ensure consistent standards nationwide
  • appointing a national director of cancer control
  • creating a single National Cancer Control Network
  • strengthening the focus on prevention and screening
  • developing cancer-specific quality performance indicators to improve equity of care.

"Today we're also announcing an extra $60 million in funding for Pharmac ($20 million this year and $40 million in 2020/21). Pharmac has advised us this will mean it can fund a range of new medicines, including several new cancer treatments," Ardern says.

"From next year, Pharmac will also speed up its decision-making by considering applications for funding at the same time as Medsafe assesses the safety of new medicines, rather than waiting until that work is complete as it does currently."

Dr Clark said the Cancer Control Agency will have its own CEO, however it will be housed within the Ministry of Health. Cancer epidemiologist Professor Diana Sarfati has been appointed interim national director of cancer control.

"We are also combining the four current regional cancer control networks into a national network to help remove regional variations in care," Dr Clark said.

It comes after strong criticism of the health care system for not having an independent national cancer agency in place.

The Cancer Control Council, established in 2005 to provide independent advice free from politicians' interference, was canned by the National-led Government in 2015.

"Successive Governments have dropped the ball on cancer care," oncologist Chris Jackson told The AM Show in July. "We saw the last National Government get rid of the cancer leadership group, the Cancer Control Council; we saw this Government promise big, and so far we haven't quite seen that manifest."

Dr Jackson says fragmented district health boards, long wait periods and a lack of a plan has led to people suffering.

"We need to pool the expertise and the resources. All of New Zealand needs access to the same technology no matter where they are," he told Newshub earlier in the year.

"Every day I see people that have waited too long. We need change now because people are suffering now."

National has promised to set aside $200 million to a fund dedicated to buying cancer drugs, if it wins next year's election.

"New Zealanders shouldn't have to pack up their lives and go to other countries for cancer treatment," leader Simon Bridges told the party faithful at its annual conference in July.

"New Zealanders shouldn't have to mortgage their houses, set up a Givealittle page or take out massive loans to be able to afford medicines which are funded in other countries."