17 Mar 2019

Petitioning Parliament for breast cancer treatments

From The House , 11:44 am on 17 March 2019

One box of tissues sits next to a line up of media microphones, the other sits on a side table with a jug of water.

Their location is pointed out by Health Committee chair and Labour MP Louisa Wall.

“We’re here at this point in time to hear from some of the metavivors,” Ms Wall said

A submitter reads their written submission to a select committee and a lot of media microphones. Tissues on the table indicate the topic is sensitive.

Ten women appeared in person to speak to the Health Committee on the petition. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

“These are people who were part of the Terre Maize petition and I just want to acknowledge that that petition specifically asked that the House and the Minister of health fund kadcyla and Ibrance for breast cancer sufferers.”

In October last year a petition to fund kadcyla and palbociclib for breast cancer sufferers with 33,971 signatures was presented to Parliament.  

This week, some of the people who wrote a submission on this petition appeared in front of the Health Committee to tell their views in person.

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Wiki Mulholland tells the health committee about living with breast cancer and why the funding is needed. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

“I want to start by remembering the eight metavivors who’ve passed away since Christmas,” said submitter Wiki Mulholland.

She recites the names of those metavivors (a term used for people living with secondary breast cancer) and acknowledges the other petitioners, “her sisters with advanced breast cancer”, those in hospital, at home or at work who are fighting for a common goal.

“We are all in this together, fighting for an inquiry into Pharmac; fighting for equity of access to modern medicines, fighting for our right to live,” she tells the Health committee.

Pharmac is a government agency that decides which medicines will receive public funding which includes, for example, vaccines, hospital medicines, cancer medicines, and haemophilia treatments.

It has factors for consideration that are taken into account when it makes decisions. These are: need, health benefits, costs and savings, and suitability.

Pharmac said each funding application falls into three broad assessment areas: clinical, economic, and commercial.

Susie Wall-Cade speaks to the Health Committee on a petition to fund Kadcyla and Palbociclib for breast cancer sufferers

Susie Wall-Cade speaks to the Health Committee on a petition to fund Kadcyla and Palbociclib for breast cancer sufferers Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Wiki Mulholland tells the committee has questions for the organisation about this process like “why are our survival rates in New Zealand so poor?” and “why don’t we in New Zealand value life-extending medications?”

Pharmac’s submission can be read here and two supplementary submissions can be read here and here on Parliament’s website.

The Health Select Committee is made up of MPs from various parties and its job includes examining legislation, conducting inquiries, and considering petitions.

Ten signatories to the petition are on the list to speak to the committee and this group of petitioners has been working hard to get Parliament to listen Wiki Mulholland said.

“Last time I was here I was in the middle of chemotherapy treatment, I was upset and I was emotional to share with you what it was like to live with advanced breast cancer.”

Treatment is key and oncologists need a range of them to use said Wiki Mulholland.

Each submitter has about ten minutes with the committee and many of them have their husband or partner sitting next to them.

Labour MP and chair of the Health Committee Louisa Wall

Labour MP and chair of the Health Committee Louisa Wall Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

After they’ve spoken MPs can ask questions and the announcement of an inquiry into Maori Health by the Maori Affairs committee as a result of this petition prompted Ms Wall to ask for the submitter’s thoughts on that.

“My concern is that...there are bigger issues that are not just unique to Maori,” answered Malcolm Mulholland, Wiki Mulholland’s husband.

“Issues around, in particular, budget. I haven’t heard that being raised or being addressed by Pharmac themselves and I think for me the bombshell that they don’t collate data by stage, what are we judging ourselves against?” he said.

Writing a petition, getting signatures, presenting it to Parliament, writing a submission, and then appearing in person sounds like a lot of effort when it’s listed together like that, and it can be.

But it’s not necessarily a waste of time and effort.

In June 2016 a petition was presented to Parliament calling for an apology for people who were convicted of consensual homosexual acts prior to homosexual law reform in the 1980s and that legislation be passed so those convictions could be expunged.

“It resulted in the Criminal Records Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences Bill and as part of that, the House issued an apology,” said Table Officer Erin Grace.

The Table Office handles documents that end up on the table in the middle of the debating chamber.

Proposed amendments to the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill 2018 cover the table in the House. 9 august 2018

The Table in the middle of the debating chamber with proposed amendments to a bill sitting on top. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

“This Parliament we’ve had 310 petitions lodged,” said Ms Grace.

Nine have been reported back to the House and 107 are sitting with select committees for consideration.

Petitions can be submitted online or in writing and they must ask Parliament to do something.

It’s the task of the team in the Table Office to check petitions to make sure that Parliament has the powers to do what it’s asked.

“It gets published to the Parliament website and then the petitioner can collect signatures,” Ms Grace said.

Getting signatures isn’t quite enough though, an MP must present the petition to Parliament.

“An MP agreeing to present a petition doesn’t necessarily mean they agree with it,” explains Ms Grace.

Any MP can be approached to present a petition regardless of whether they’re a list or electorate MP.

Petitions cover a wide range of things and fall into the category of “anything that people feel strongly about” said Ms Grace.

"We’ve got some at the moment about banning the use of plastic straws, we’ve got one for compulsory drug testing for MPs. People might petition about local issues so we’ve got one about saving the Miramar Golf Course and another about having a vote of no confidence available in New Zealand elections.”

A list of petitions currently open for signatures can be found on Parliament’s website here and there is also a guide to submitting a petition here.