Funding boost expected for cancer drugs

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone
Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Cabinet ministers are expected to decide on Monday whether to significantly boost Pharmac's funding to try to make right National's broken promise on cancer drugs.

RNZ understands ministers will canvass a range of proposals and figures with an announcement to be made soon after it is signed off.

At least one of those options is a major investment - hundreds of millions of dollars - into Pharmac to allow it to work through its wishlist.

The Post reported on Friday that at least $600 million over four years was on the table.

During last year's election campaign, National pledged to fund 13 specific cancer treatments, but the promised funding did not eventuate in last month's Budget.

After a backlash from patients, ministers said they were working on a solution and to expect an announcement "soon".

Ministers have publicly raised three possible options: directing Pharmac to fund the drugs, equipping a separate agency to fund them, or boosting Pharmac's funding.

The issue has been muddled by conflicting comments coming out of the coalition, mainly relating to Pharmac's independence. The drug-buying agency operates independently from the government to avoid politicising which treatments are funded.

Health Minister Shane Reti this week guaranteed that all 13 named drugs would be funded, as promised.

In contrast, the minister responsible for Pharmac, David Seymour, refused to make that commitment and told a select committee he was "wholly committed" to Pharmac's neutrality.

A boost in Pharmac's funding, as is being considered, would avoid breaching that independence, but it would also not guarantee which treatments would be funded.

Pharmac's drug funding wish list includes more than 140 treatments but its order-of-preference is kept secret.

A host of cancer advocacy groups have called on the coalition to honour its promise, but cancer experts have also criticised the list of 13 drugs as out-of-date.