Politicians 'the last people we want picking drugs for us'

Photo: Getty Images
On the campaign trail, National promised to fund the drugs that had been highlighted in a Cancer Control Agency Report about the medicine gap in Aotearoa. Photo: Getty Images
Health Minister Shane Reti's hard line around funding 13 new cancer treatments is a "lose-lose" for patients, oncologist Chris Jackson says.

On the campaign trail, National promised to fund the drugs that had been highlighted in a Cancer Control Agency Report about the medicine gap in Aotearoa; Professor Jackson was one of the authors.

But despite Reti submitting a funding bid the treatments were not included in the Budget prompting a public outcry.

At a select committee hearing on Tuesday Dr Reti doubled down on National's promise, saying it would fund the specified drugs.

Professor Jackson said the drugs were put on the list three years ago and treatments had moved on.

A new list would be "meaningfully different", he said, and would prevent a significant number of people, such as those with blood cancer, missing out.

If the government persisted, better drugs would miss out and drug companies would be able to charge "top dollar" for the named drugs.

National had bought itself a political problem by promising named drugs to cancer sufferers.

The best option would be to give Pharmac set funding for cancer treatments.

"A better way out of this would be for National to say we promise everyone who had a drug on the list they will get the same or better which would give the experts a chance to come up with a newer list."

It would also mean the drug companies would have to compete against other which was better for taxpayers and those with cancer would gain access to much more modern treatments.

While the minister was maintaining that the experts had chosen the list, Professor Jackson said the experts were now calling for the list to be redone.

"Hear what we're saying now which is redo the list."

National's current list contained no drugs to treat breast, prostate and blood cancers and only one for colon cancer and it was not the best one available now.

For bowel cancer there was now a drug and immune therapy available which cured 40 to 60 percent of those with metastatic disease while for melanoma there was a treatment which was working for half of patients with secondary brain cancers.

"So if we go ahead with this dogged policy we're going to be in a lose-lose situation because the best drugs won't get across the line and we'll be paying top dollar."

He was adamant that the government was undermining Pharmac by naming drugs that would be purchased.

Pharmac should be in charge of making the decisions, he said.

"By picking winners we're putting politicians in the position whereby it's open season. It becomes standard that politicians get lobbied for individual drugs and that's a terrible position to be because politicians are the last people we want picking drugs for us."

More staff including nurses and doctors and other resources would also be required because once the drugs were bought it would be the largest number ever dropped into the health sector at the same time.

Professor Jackson said he had contacted both Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and Reti but had not had any response so far.