'Amazing': Vining elated drugs funded

Melissa Vining. PHOTO: FINDEX
Melissa Vining. PHOTO: FINDEX
Yesterday's announcement that the government will increase drug funding by $604 million is the best news patient advocate Melissa Vining has heard in six years.

Health Minister Shane Reti and Associate Health Minister David Seymour announced the government would deliver up to 26 cancer treatments as part of an overall package of up to 54 new medicines.

Dr Reti said of the 13 cancer treatments National promised in last year’s election campaign up to seven would be included in the package and the others would be replaced by alternatives that were just as good or better.

Ms Vining, who blasted the government for a "despicable" U-turn on promised funding in the Budget, said she thought the reaction from patients, their families and the many New Zealanders who were not affected by cancer forced the government to change its mind.

"I think the government has heard the voice of the people and it shows how important it is for people to speak up when something isn’t right."

Her husband, Blair Vining, died in 2019 aged 39 nearly a year after being diagnosed with terminal stage four bowel cancer.

She said it would be a special day for him because he worked to establish the national cancer agency, Cancer Control Agency, in his dying days with his doctor, oncologist Chris Jackson.

The agency produced a report showing New Zealand was behind 19 comparable OECD countries in delivering free access to treatment.

"This bothered us to the core that people with money had access to these life-saving or life-prolonging drugs and people without money did not.

"We’re not talking about poor people, we’re talking about average working New Zealanders trying to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to extend their lives and be cured."

Ms Vining said after her husband’s diagnosis they faced a $100,000 bill for the treatment and an additional $4000 per week administration fee.

She said the report was behind National’s election pledge.

"A lot of people voted for National on the promise of funding these cancer drugs.

"For them to not only follow through with the commitment, but exceed it, is amazing."

Ms Vining said there would be many cancer patients breathing a sigh of relief after yesterday’s announcement.

"I’m just so happy they won’t have to face that burden of mortgaging their homes or setting up a Givealittle [page] to receive treatment that is available in comparable countries."

It was the first happy day in six years of treatment advocacy for Ms Vining.

Lung cancer patient Jennie Wedge said she cried "happy tears" after discovering Osimertinib — the drug she needs to help manage her stage four cancer — was on the list.

"I held my breath while I read down the list and it’s on the list.

"I was blown away. It was really good news."

She wondered how soon it would be funded, but said it was amazing progress.

Southern Cancer Society chief executive Nicola Coom said it was essential Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora also addressed the necessary infrastructure to ensure the medicines could be effectively administered.

Government agency Pharmac estimated about 175,000 people would benefit from the additional treatments in the first year.

Dr Reti said the funding would cover treatment from the pre-election manifesto and some other treatments, including for blood cancers and other tumours.

"We are also providing more new medicines for a range of other conditions to improve Kiwis’ health and life outcomes.

"This announcement will allow Pharmac to fund up to 26 cancer treatments and 28 other treatments. This will be a mix of new medicines and widened access to medicines that are already available."

The $604m funding boost for medicines was a pre-commitment against next year’s Budget and further funding would still be available to Pharmac and HNZ to deliver and administer treatment.

Some of the new treatments would begin rolling out from October and November and more would be phased in through the next year.

Mr Seymour said the government had set a target of having 90% of patients receive cancer management within 31 days of the decision to treat.