23 Oct 2008

Herceptin funded for 12-month course under National

5:16 pm on 23 October 2008

The National Party has pledged to boost spending on medicines by $40 million in its first year in Government, including funding 12-month courses of the cancer treatment Herceptin.

The party released its medicines policy saying it would boost funding by $40 million in the first year, $60 million in the second year and $80 million in the third year.

National leader John Key said Pharmac's decision last year to fund a nine-week course of the drug was driven by money, and a National government would pay for a full 12 months.

"We will be directing them to do that, effectively in the same way that vaccines are paid for.

"We will be literally putting up the money, paid for by the Ministry of Health, given to pay for the drug."

Mr Key said the boost would be done under current indicative spending allocations.

He said 12% of New Zealand's public health spending goes to medicines, compared to an average of 18% in the OECD.

John Key said National would also speed up registration of new medicines.

'Mistake' to circumvent Pharmac

A leading cancer specialist said it would be a mistake for the National Party to go round the drug-buying agency Pharmac to fund Herceptin.

Auckland cancer specialist Vernon Harvey, a member of Pharmac's cancer advisory committee, supports 12 month courses of the drug, but said National's proposal was a backward step.

"Any decision that removes it from outside the current process, without replacing that with another process is wrong.

"Medicines are sufficiently expensive that we could all break the bank tomorrow, we have to have a process to determine which medicines are most appropriate."

Labour's health spokesman, David Cunliffe, said the money promised by National would be taken from other areas of health.

And he said the decision to fund longer courses of Herceptin, against careful scientific advice, signals the beginning of the end of the Pharmac model that saves New Zealanders a billion dollars a year.

The Researched Medicines Industry Association and the Breast Cancer Foundation have welcomed the funding pledge.