Cancer patient devastated government won't fund new drugs

By Rowan Quinn, of RNZ

A woman living with tumours on her heart says she is devastated the government has broken its promise to fund 13 new cancer drugs.

The election pledge was left out of Thursday's Budget, with Finance Minister Nicola Willis saying she regretted that it "hasn't been possible".

Vickie Hudson-Craig has melanoma that has spread to her heart and responds to two of the 13 promised medicines - dabrafenib and trametinib.

She cried when she heard they would not be funded.

"The injustice that you can make promises like that and then break them with total disregard for life is I think what upsets me the most," she said.

Vickie Hudson-Craig with her husband Ryan and daughter Ruby. Photo: Supplied
Vickie Hudson-Craig with her husband Ryan and daughter Ruby. Photo: Supplied
She remembered the government's promise that no New Zealander would need to set up a Givealittle page or mortgage their home to fund the drugs.

"To have that hope just wiped away is just devastating," she said.

Hudson-Craig is currently paying $5500 a month for the drugs that are keeping her alive - largely thanks to fundraising and a supportive community.

That made her comparatively fortunate, and she worried for others, she said.

"All of those people that are on the list - that not even one drug got funded, it's heartbreaking."

She had been fielding a lot of calls from people who said they only voted National because of the promise, she said.

Both Willis and Health Minister Shane Reti said the drugs would eventually be funded, it just could not happen in this Budget.

Vickie Hudson-Craig has melanoma that has spread to her heart. Photo: Supplied

Reti denied National had broken its promise, saying it was a work in progress.

The government was ending free prescriptions for millions of people from July and that money would be put back into Pharmac, he said.

Cancer medicine professor and doctor Chris Jackson said patients asked him every day about the drugs.

He felt for them but said delivering on the promise was always going to be difficult.

It would have meant changing the system and it would have been much for effective to have significantly upped Pharmac's entire budget, he said.

Under the current regime, the government could not simply order Pharmac to fund certain drugs, he said.

"We don't want doing politicians that either, that would be an absolute disaster. We need that separation of the minister from the actual decisions made.

"But what the minister can control is how much money [Pharmac] gets and they've not delivered that."

A $1.77 billion allocation had already been announced for Pharmac but that was only expected to cover current medication and cost increases.

Jackson said the list of 13 drugs was already out of date, and there were now even better drugs for some of the conditions since it was first drawn up 18 months ago.