PHOTO: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

Extra $600m to fund cancer meds and other treatments – Expert Reaction

Pharmac will receive an additional $604 million over four years to fund or widen access to more medicines, including up to 26 cancer treatments.

The funding will also cover medicines for other conditions, totalling up to an estimated 54 new or widened access medicines. The next step for Pharmac involves working through the medicines on its Options for Investment (OFI) list to determine which medicines to progress. It will then begin negotiating with suppliers, and consulting publicly.

The SMC asked experts to comment.

Professor Paula Lorgelly, Professor of Health Economics, University of Auckland, comments:

“This an important step to improving the health of both cancer patients and many other patients needing access to medicines. Importantly, it attempts to mediate any political undermining of the robust Pharmac evaluation process. Although it must be acknowledged that naming the drugs that will be funded does undermine some of the bargaining power of Pharmac.

“The funding seeks to address the waiting list for medicines, Pharmac’s Options for Investment list. It does not take away the fact that we will always have a waiting list for medicines, this is because Pharmac has a fixed budget, and New Zealanders’ needs and wants will always outstrip the budget available. Minister Seymour noted that this will be a significant task for Pharmac, and I hope to see some funding in the budget for operationalising this uplift. Pharmac staff now have a huge task ahead of them negotiating prices and securing supply contracts.

“Te Whatu Ora will also need to be resourced to deliver these new treatments. The news today of hiring freezes and growing vacancies is at odds with a pharmaceutical budget boost.”

Conflict of interest statement: “Provided advice to Pharmac and in the past have consulted to various pharmaceutical companies.”

Professor Christopher Jackson, Professor of Oncology, University of Otago, comments:

“Seven new medicines available this year with up to 26 available in the next 12 months is the largest number of new cancer medicines announced in one go. This is huge news for patients affected by cancer.

“It is also excellent to see that PHARMAC will be used to obtain these medicines, and not bypassed, as would have happened if National’s policy was implemented as was originally intended.

“I said at the time that National were wrong to bypass PHARMAC and I’m pleased they’re changed their position.

“There is a real risk contained in the policy though – and that is capacity of the health system to cope. Already cancer services up and down the country are stretched and many have waiting lists. If these drugs are funded without more money for staff and services then we will see wait times for cancer treatments grow, and we could see a major unintended consequence of a blow-out of people waiting to receive treatment.

“It would be a tragedy if all of a sudden we have more cancer drugs to offer people, but no doctors or nurses to deliver them. We need urgent clarity on how we will staff the system that is set to grow bigger than ever before.”

No conflicts of interest.