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NZ ‘falling behind’ in lung cancer treatment

NEW Zealand employs a third world approach to the detection, treatment and care of lung cancer, Lung Foundation chief executive Philip Hope said.

Mr Hope, who lives in Gisborne, said the country was “falling further and further behind comparable countries of the OECD” in terms of its standard of cancer care treatment (such as targeted therapies and immunotherapies).

“These are life changing for patients.”

Mr Hope said he was “disappointed” that Parliament’s health select committee had declined a petition asking the Government to declare lung cancer a national health priority and to approve additional budget for Pharmac to fund lung cancer medications, including Keytruda, alectinib, osimertinib and crizotinib, for all Kiwis with advanced lung cancer.

The petition was signed by 7618 people.

“Although Pharmac is ultimately accountable to the Minister of Health, we respect its independence and impartiality,” a report from the health select committee said.

“We are satisfied that its decision-making process is robust and evidence-based.

“We do not believe Parliament should attempt to influence Pharmac to fund particular treatments.”

Mr Hope said it was disappointing that the select committee did not acknowledge or demonstrate a commitment to reducing extreme inequity, which clearly does exist for patients and families dealing with lung cancer.

There was no mention of the Treaty of Waitangi and the responsibility to Maori who are over-represented in both registrations and mortality rates for lung cancer.

“Successive governments have prevented access to countless medicines in the public system by employing thrift policy settings, which has seen systemic underfunding continue.”

Mr Hope described Pharmac as an institutionalised instrument of government.

“It is slow, bogged down by years of its unfit-for-purpose thrift thinking and non-transparent practices, which have largely remained unchallenged, enabled and led by individuals and committees too compliant to question the status quo.

“New Zealand needs a drug buying agency and a minister that understands the future of cancer care is already here, and a preparedness to invest in these modern medicines that are the standard of care.

“Access to treatment is access to life.”

Mr Hope said Pharmac needed to negotiate supply agreements for multiple new medicines with increased frequency (for each condition), much faster and with transparency.

Delaying reimbursement to push prices down was an outdated model that was causing countless patients to die prematurely, or suffer the unnecessary side effects of outdated treatments.

Mr Hope said it was disgraceful that the country funded just a third of the treatments funded in Australia “for what is our biggest cancer killer”.

“Ultimately it is this lack of access that is causing so many patients to die prematurely (unless they have money to self-fund access in a private clinic).

“I personally feel terribly sad for every lung cancer patient and their family here in New Zealand.

“We simply cannot condone this injustice and we must keep pushing for better.

“Surely we are better then the status quo?”

Mr Hope said the Foundation was preparing a response to the health select committee.