Government 'embarrassed into action' over cancer, Michael Woodhouse claims

Michael Woodhouse claims the Government has been "embarrassed into action" on cancer by the National Party's own strategy.

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.

"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," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Sunday.

"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."

But Woodhouse - the National Party's Health spokesperson - says the Government has been "embarrassed" into acting by the Opposition, which in July promised to set aside $200 million for a fund dedicated to buying cancer drugs if it is elected. It would also established a cancer agency.

He told Newshub that the Government "owes families living with cancer an apology".

"They have been asleep at the wheel on cancer planning for not only the nine years in opposition but for the two years they've been in Government."

New Zealand did previously have a Cancer Control Council, established in 2005, which provided independent advice free from political interference, but that was canned by the National-led Government in 2015.

The Labour Party had promised to set up a cancer agency during the 2017 election campaign. In January, Health Minister David Clark said the Government's interim cancer action plan would be released in August.

In a statement, Woodhouse said the Government's plan was "too little too late" and that it disregarded the many families having to resort to getting loans and setting up Givealittle pages to afford treatment.

"The Government has repeatedly delayed the release of any strategy, being forced to scramble something together after National took decisive action on this life-threatening issue."

The Government is promising an extra $60 million in funding for Pharmac, which Ardern says means it will be able to fund a range of new medicines.

Pharmac's Director of Operations, Lisa Williams, says the drug-buying agency was pleased.

"We are really pleased with the funding boost. We have issued consultations on proposals to fund three new cancer medicines and we have also proposed changes to funding for a number of other medicines," she told Newshub.

"We're going to be working really hard now to get the best deals for New Zealand on more medicines. We are going to be working our way down our list, we will be doing deals with the Pharma companies. The better deals we can make, the more medicines we can fund."

One of the key points in Ardern's announcement was that Pharmac would speed up its processes. 

"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," she said.

The Breast Cancer Foundation's chief executive Evangelia Hendersen is looking forward to seeing the resources behind that.

"When they talk about faster decision-making by Pharmac, we really need to push on that. We're not going to be quite happy until we know how that is going to be done and how many resources they have in addition."

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.