Patient advocate slams cancer agency report over 'wall of silence' on Pharmac funding

Source: 1News

The Cancer Control Agency has released its first report into cancer in New Zealand, but one patient advocate says it doesn't properly address the "wall of silence" around Pharmac's drug funding.

Malcolm Mulholland, who chairs Patient Voice Aotearoa, told Breakfast this morning that there were pros and cons in  He Pūrongo Mate Pukupuku o Aotearoa 2020, The State of Cancer in New Zealand 2020 .

"I think the cons for us is that it only dedicates one page in a 152 page report to that of Pharmac and the funding of cancer drugs, and that's an area that we deal with on a daily basis," Mulholland said.

Pharmac is a New Zealand Crown entity that decides, on behalf of District Health Boards, which medicines and pharmaceutical products are subsidised for use in the community and public hospitals.

"If we want to get real about addressing the inequities between Māori and non-Māori for example, we know that in the private market that is where patients are having to self-fund, that's where inequity is at its greatest because Māori tend to be poorer so they can't afford to buy the drugs they so desperately need to stay alive, which means as a result they die much sooner," Mulholland said.

"There's no reference to that, there's no reference to the fact that in Australia you can access 66 more cancer drugs than you can in New Zealand. I mean, some of these are just really alarming figures but they're nowhere to be found in the report."

One of the changes Mulholland is calling for is that Pharmac's budget be doubled.

"We know that if we compare ourselves to other OECD countries we only fund Pharmac about a third of what they fund their drug buy-in agencies.

"If we're talking about Pharmac in particular, there is this wall of silence. It's this Government agency that is entirely untouchable. We know through doing research that you've got a better chance of getting a review into the GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau) and the SIS (New Zealand Security Intelligence Service) than you have into Pharmac."

Health Minister Andrew Little has said the Government is planning an independent inquiry into Pharmac, however Mulholland said there were "simple steps" the Government could take now to help people live longer.

"They want to address inequities, let's talk about the funding of Keytruda for melanoma, right. Melanoma in the main affects white people, it doesn't affect our own yet Māori are adversely affected by lung cancer but it's not funded for lung cancer. So lets talk about that inequity to start off with," he said.

Earlier on Breakfast, Te Aho Te Kahu chief executive Diana Sarfati said, "there needs to be continued work in addressing inequities, strengthening prevention, expanding screening and improving diagnosis and treatment for cancer".

"I'm optimistic that we are currently in the best position that we have ever been to be able to start moving the needle and to improve things for New Zealanders," she said.