The Government’s announcement to set up a National Cancer Agency within the Ministry of Health and fund more medicines shows it is starting to hear patients’ pleas to eliminate the ‘postcode lottery’ for cancer care in New Zealand, but still leaves some questions unanswered.
“It is positive to see the Government acknowledging every cancer patient’s right to screening, diagnosis and treatment no matter where they reside in New Zealand. The combination of a National Cancer Agency and providing funding for cancer and other medicines that have been proven to prolong and improve patients’ lives is positive progress” says Dr Graeme Jarvis, CEO of Medicines New Zealand.
"New Zealand is at the bottom of 20 comparative OECD countries for its access to modern medicines, including cancer medicines. This situation will only get worse if we don't act now, so this announcement is promising as regards both cancer and other modern medicines”.
While the announcement is a positive step, New Zealand’s medicines waiting list which contains 18 cancer medicines, also contains 86 medicines to treat other illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. This means patients with those diseases and others including mental health and rare disorders will still likely face inequitable access to medicines. The average time medicines have been on the waiting list is 4 years, with one medicine waiting more than 14 years, and all still remain unfunded.
"Given the well-established $375 million per year funding gap within PHARMAC, the announcement of $60 million of new investment over two years, while a step in the right direction, still means further funding is required in order to get medicines investment back to levels seen in 2007 to deliver medicines to patients and the health system" says Dr Jarvis.
Medicines New Zealand notes the Government's plan to investigate an Early Access Scheme for cancer medicines, but does not think this alone would necessarily work in New Zealand because of the current time it takes to fund a medicine. Early Access Schemes focus more on new and emerging medicines, for which the evidence is encouraging but not yet completed, and are for medicines that have not yet received regulatory approval.
"How is that sort of scheme going to perform when we don’t even publicly fund the older medicines for which the evidence is clear and compelling?” says Dr Lee Mathias, Chairman of Medicines New Zealand.
“What New Zealand really needs is a broader, well-funded Rapid Access Scheme that will deliver fast public funding of all medicines after they have been granted regulatory approval. This will enable not only the medicines waiting list to be cleared, but also provide approved, priority modern medicines to all patients in a timely and equitable manner."
Kristen Edwards, Communications Advisor, Medicines New Zealand
Ph: 027 534 6461