Infrastructure investment needed before National's cancer drugs could be delivered - Cancer society

6:33 pm on 22 August 2023
Medical equipment

Chemotherapy administration units are under pressure all around the country, the medical director of the Cancer Society says. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The National Party has promised it will fund 13 new cancer treatments if elected in October.

The $280 million policy would be funded by restricting fee-free prescriptions to superannuitants and those on low incomes.

Cancer Society medical director Dr Kate Gregory told Morning Report a lot of infrastructure would be needed to make sure the drugs could even be delivered.

"On one hand it's fantastic, these are drugs we've been waiting for for a long time for our patients, they were identified well over a year ago now by the cancer agency as representing a gap between what patients here could access compared to what patients in Australia could access."

But Gregory said she also had concerns.

"You've got to, for example, for some of the treatments they've been funding there's a test that has been to done to show if that treatment's going to be effective for the patient, so that requires pathology services which are under huge pressure all ready. You've then got to have the nursing staff to actually administer the drugs and then you've got to have the physical space and treatment clinics to administer them.

"Chemotherapy administration units are under pressure all around the country and so there's quite a lot of infrastructure that has to be put in place really to make sure that we can deliver these drugs."

Gregory wanted to see consultation and investment in the workforce, training and buildings.

"There's quite a lot of work that National would need to do with the oncology community to make sure that we can actually we can deliver these drugs properly and safely."

It was not new New Zealand was lacking behind Australia in the drugs available, she said.

"We're not responsive enough when new drugs come out, when trials come proving a new treatment's extremely effective, we have to have a better way of identifying that and actually moving it to the clinic a lot quicker than has happened.

"It's not acceptable for our patients to wait years for treatments which could be lifesaving."

The treatments funded would include:

  • osimertinib for lung cancer, first- and second-line therapies
  • atezolizumab with bevacizumab for liver cancer
  • cetuximab or panitumumab for bowel cancer, first- and second-line therapies
  • nivolumab with ipilimumab for kidney cancer, first- and second-line therapies; for head and neck cancer
  • axitinib for kidney cancer - second-line therapy
  • pembrolizumab for bladder cancer
  • nivolumab or pembrolizumab for melanoma (adjuvant)
  • dabrafenib with trametinib for melanoma (adjuvant)
  • BRAF/MEK inhibitors for melanoma (unresectable).

'This is something that should have been implemented a long time ago'

Last year Pauline and Ben Mulqueeney moved to Queensland to access treatment for Ben's melanoma.

The drug he needed was funded in Australia, but had a high cost in New Zealand.

The drugs National would fund if elected would make a difference for her family and they would not have had to move across the ditch if treatment had been funded, Pauline Mulqueeney said.

She said the treatment in New Zealand cost roughly $100,000 - $120,000. "We don't own our own home so we just couldn't finance it, as simple as that."

As the family were already permanent Australian residents, having lived there for over six years, the treatments were available to them there, she said.

"We were just lucky and unfortunately for a lot of people, they can't do that."

She thought National's plan was "excellent" and "well overdue".

"This is something that should have been implemented a long time ago. It's been a long journey and very hard obviously for him (Ben)."

As a result of the treatment, Ben had chronic fatigue which Mulqueeney said would be ongoing, as well as complete hair loss.

The treatment Ben received initially in New Zealand was "fantastic", Mulqueeney said.

"I can't speak high enough of the clinical nurses, the staff [at] North Shore hospital, the surgeon - absolutely amazing, wonderful people."

National Party health spokesperson Shane Reti told Checkpoint on Monday that looking at the downstream impacts of a policy like theirs was really important.

"Probably the pinch point is the infusion capability, that is, when you have a chemo therapeutic, you're in a chemo suite and you have a giving set and chemo nurse in a special facility - sterile environment.

"All of that is really important infrastructure and we've talked about that through some of our policies around the health workforces and we'll have more to say on that."

Reti said with the information the party had, he was confident the medicines would be able to be given, with 50 percent oral and able to be taken at home.

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