Kindness and priorities

The announcement of development handouts to Māori in the regions coincide with Waitangi celebrations. See Waitangi – inclusion, protest and handouts.

Perhaps there will be a big announcement on cancer drugs for World Cancer Day (which is actually today, 4 February) – but the Government says that it is up to Pharmac (except for when the Government intervenes but they didn’t say that).

1 News: World-leading breast cancer expert calls on Pharmac to make two new breast cancer drugs more affordable

Pressure is mounting on Pharmac to make two new breast cancer drugs more affordable, as a world-leading expert says New Zealand is falling behind other developed countries in its treatment of advanced breast cancer.

Auckland woman Wiki Mullholland has been pushing for better treatment of advanced breast cancer since she was diagnosed in May.

The mother of three is lobbying Pharmac to fund new medicines Ibrance and Kadcyla.

“Advanced breast cancer is all about treatment. We need to know what’s coming next and for me, Ibrance is next,” she said.

“It’s going to cost $7000 a month for me and my family to source that.”

Now, a world authority on terminal breast cancer, oncologist Dr Fatima Cardoso is supporting the cause.

Ms Cardoso said, “The medium survival of patients with this disease in New Zealand is about half of what it is in other developed countries. From those results, it is not good, and it needs clearly to be improved”.

The average survival after a terminal breast cancer diagnosis here is sixteen months.

“It is, for the moment, unfortunately, an incurable disease, but it is treatable and with the correct treatment, people can live for several years with a good quality of life,” she said.

Pharmac says Ibrance and Kadcyla have been recommended for funding, but for a limited group of patients.

A decision is expected by the end of the month.

Calls for Prime Ministerial kindness have been made before.

Newshub (August 2018):  Duncan Garner’s desperate plea to Jacinda Ardern over cancer funding

Duncan Garner has made an emotional appeal to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to review Pharmac and prevent unnecessary cancer deaths.

Cancer Society’s Dr Chris Jackson told Newshub New Zealand is lagging behind and the matter needs immediate attention.

“What’s clear is that 2500 New Zealanders died from cancer whose lives could have been saved if they were treated in Australia over the course of the last five years,” he said.

Stuff (December 2018):  Teen pleads for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to step in and cut strings to cancer drug funding

The teenage daughter of a Palmerston North woman with advanced breast cancer has written an open letter to the prime minister, pleading for the Government to make medicine more accessible.

Molly Rose Malton Mulholland, 17, is the daughter of Wiki Mulholland, 40, who has metastatic breast cancer, which is the most advanced stage of breast cancer. It has spread to her bones.

Molly decided to write an open letter to Jacinda Ardern, begging for Government intervention after the cancer treatments subcommittee from Pharmac put forward their recommendations for the funding applications for two life-prolonging drugs, Ibrance and Kadcyla.

The subcommittee recommended the drugs be funded, but with strings attached. Ibrance would not be funded for women who had already received hormonal treatment, and Kadcyla could be accessed only by those who hadn’t been treated with another drug, Perjeta.

The Government has stepped in on regional Māori development funding, so perhaps they could do similar on drug funding. Or, where Pharmac makes the decisions, on Pharmac funding.

Labour health spokesperson Annette King in 2015: Pharmac’s underfunding is costing Kiwi lives

It is easy to point the finger at “political interference” when it comes to the tough decisions Pharmac is increasingly having to make around funding life-saving healthcare for Kiwis.

But nothing screams ‘political interference’ like the underfunding of our most successful health model.

Allowing Pharmac to fund life-saving cancer treatments in the short term – as countries overseas currently do – will offer hope without the agency being tied to a long-term funding programme.

Labour is proposing a pool of money be set aside to fund these innovative medicines for a short period, say two years, where there is little alternative treatment available. Pharmac’s model would remain untouched, New Zealanders would be able to access new drugs as those in Australia and Great Britain currently do, and money would go where it matters most – into saving Kiwi lives.

I get it that delivering for Māori is important to Ardern and her Government.  Last year at Waitangi Ardern said “When we return in one year, in three years, I ask you to ask us what we have done for you”.

But people suffering from cancer may nor be alive in three years, or one year.

Where’s the kindness and empathy for people who are sick and dying?