Health Minister Dr Shane Reti doubles-down on disastrous broken cancer drug promise

Health Minister Dr Shane Reti is sticking to his guns about funding the specific 13 cancer drugs promised on the election campaign.

That's despite an author of the report the promise was based on saying the list is out of date.

The broken cancer drugs promise was front and centre of a grilling at Select Committee on Tuesday.

This is the anatomy of a broken promise.

"We do acknowledge we could have communicated this better," Dr Reti admitted.

National promised to fund 13 cancer drugs on the election campaign and failed to deliver them in the Budget. It's become a disaster for the Government.

Dr Reti told Newshub he did put in a formal Budget bid for the cancer drugs - but wouldn't explain why it was declined, saying that was "confidential".

Some problems with the policy include:

  • Pharmac is supposed to remain independent from Government so drug selection is not influenced by politicians
  • Introducing 13 cancer treatments all at one time comes with major extra workforce demands
  • The cost
  • And while Pharmac has signed off seven of the drugs - one's been declined, three still require assessment or clinical advice and no application has been lodged for the other two.

At the Select Committee today, Labour's health spokesperson Dr Ayesha Verrall said Dr Reti had persisted with a "manipulative and cruel promise" he did not intend to follow through on.

Ministers are scrambling to find a workaround, but in public Dr Reti is doubling down - recommitting to the specific 13 drugs he promised.

"We are committed to delivering the cancer treatments as we described them," he said.

Health Minister Dr Shane Reti.
Health Minister Dr Shane Reti. Photo credit: Newshub

The list came from the Cancer Control Agency report written back in 2021. Oncologist Dr Chris Jackson helped write the report and he said it was never designed as a shopping list.

"Taking a three-year-old list is just nuts," he said.

Cancer treatments have since evolved and there are more effective drugs available - but even knowing that, Dr Reti is sticking to the specific 13.

"That's the commitment that we made, and so that's what we're sticking to," he told Newshub.

And he denied he was sticking to that commitment to win a political battle.

"No, for those who saw themselves in our policy, we want to give them hope and we want to meet those commitments," he said.

But Dr Verrall said Dr Reti has "prioritised saving his skin politically over doing what's right for patients".

"If it were me I would have said 'we promise everyone who had a condition on that list that they will get a drug. We will make sure it's the best one'," added Dr Jackson.

Jenna Lynch analysis

Newshub understands behind the scenes in the Beehive there is confusion and frustration with Dr Reti's handling of this including his recommitment to the specific 13 drugs today.

One source close to the decision-making told me it was near-impossible to fulfil that promise.

We understand an announcement on how they're going to fix the problem could come as soon as next week.