Herceptin cost not 'in public interest'

Health Minister Tony Ryall has refused to release the cost to the Government of the 12-month Herceptin programme because he says it is not in the public interest.

In response to questions first raised by the Otago Daily Times on September 24, Health Minister Tony Ryall has now advised public interest in releasing the information about the cost of the breast cancer drug was considered, but it was determined this did not outweigh the reasons for withholding the information.

He cited a section of the Official Information Act as grounds for withholding the information, which referred to protecting information which was subject to an obligation of confidence.

Making available such information would likely prejudice supply of similar information and that would not be in the public interest.

The ODT is seeking a review of this decision by the Office of the Ombudsmen on grounds it is in the public interest.

The Government began funding 12-month Herceptin treatment when it came into office.

Before the election it advised it would spend an extra $9 million a year for three years.

In December, Mr Ryall advised the Government was providing additional funding up to $3.6 million a year to support the extra district health board costs of administering the drug.

The extension to 12-month treatment would involve extra staff and equipment because patients needed extra clinic visits.

The drug's cost was commercially sensitive, he said then.

In a media release last month he said the 12-month course was being funded from the extra $40 million the Government was spending on medicines this year.

The move to fund the 12-month treatment was outside the usual process of the drug-purchasing agency Pharmac, which opted for a nine-week course and advised before the election that even if it had extra funding, the 12-month treatment would not be a priorityAt the end of September, 191 women were on the 12-month Herceptin programme for women with Her-2-positive breast cancer.

Another 37 were on the nine-week course.

The number of patients taking up the 12-month treatment had been at the level estimated by the Ministry of Health, he said.

Fewer women than expected had opted for the nine-week treatment in 2008 and 2009 and to date more women than expected had opted for the nine-week treatment this financial year.

Asked what would happen if more women than expected sought Herceptin treatment and the costs went above those originally allocated, Mr Ryall said the Ministry of Health would fund it from its risk reserves.

Last December, he said it was expected that up to 300 women a year would receive the 12-month treatment.

Reports before the election suggested women who were paying for their own year-long treatment had each been spending between $50,000 and $120,000 for that treatment.

elspeth.mclean@odt.co.nz

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