Cancer sufferers to benefit from Pharmac funding boost - Jacinda Ardern

The Prime Minister says cancer sufferers will significantly benefit from a funding boost to Pharmac - despite not all the money going towards cancer drugs.

On Sunday, the Government unveiled its 10-year plan to tackle cancer, which includes giving Pharmac major funding, setting up a new national cancer agency, and developing cancer-specific quality-performance indicators.

Pharmac has a budget of $995 million for medicines, with 16 new cancer medicines funded between 2011/12 and 2017/18. The amount of money Pharmac spends on cancer medicines has been increasing every year and currently sits at about $220 million.

Over the next two years, $60 million will be pumped into Pharmac. However, despite the announcement being made alongside the Government's 10-year cancer plan, due to the drug-buying agency's model, not all of that will go towards cancer medicines.

Sunday's announced funding boost will also go towards two long-acting contraceptives and making meningococcal vaccines free for more people.

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has reassured cancer sufferers that many of the funded drugs will benefit them.

"From the Budget, an addition $10 million went in, and recently, Pharmac announced, as a result of that additional funding, they are consulting on additional cancer drugs, and from this $60 million, they have told us there will be additional cancer drugs available for ovarian, breast cancer and leukaemia," she told The AM Show.

"[Pharmac] are the ones that make a decision from the funding provided, then they take, essentially, the next pharmaceutical products that are next on their list and fund them. We know from the statements they have made that, of course, includes cancer drugs."

Cancer sufferers to benefit from Pharmac funding boost - Jacinda Ardern
Photo credit: The AM Show.

Following the Sunday announcement, Pharmac board chair Steve Maharey said consultation had begun on proposals to fund olaparib for ovarian cancer, fulvestrant for breast cancer and venetoclax for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

"This extra funding has taken the annual medicines budget to over $1 billion. We are working our way down our medicine priority list. These new medicines are just the beginning – more is on the way," said Maharey.

In August, Pharmac also announced it was considering funding lung cancer drug Alecensa and breast cancer drug Kadcyla.

Despite the $60 million boost, Malcolm Mulholland, a cancer care advocate whose wife, Wiki, is suffering from breast cancer, says New Zealand is falling behind other countries.

"It is just a small drop in the ocean. We need to double the budget in quick time, because whilst we muck around and do nothing about it, the rest of the world continues to march on in terms of the drugs that they fund," he told The AM Show on Monday.

"If we look at the waiting list overall, we know that there are over 100 drugs, all of these drugs proven to have worked, but we are not seeing any response from the Government."

But solving New Zealand's cancer problem isn't all about drugs. A difficulty for many with cancer is that treatment isn't easily accessible in all areas of the country. 

"One of the biggest things we have identified in treatment is, for instance, a number of people will have to access radiotherapy, and yet, if you are in the central North Island, if you are in Hastings, you would have to travel a significant distance in order to access what will often be daily radiotherapy," she told The AM Show.

One way of tackling that was by helping to fund 12 Linear Accelerators, radiation machines that will be given to regions throughout New Zealand over the next three years.

"A cancer plan that works has to be comprehensive and must include radiation treatment as well as pharmaceuticals and preventative measures," Ardern said at the time.