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Dr Shane Reti. Photo/Facebook

Health

Health Minister doubles down on miscommunication behind lack of cancer treatment funding

Following the government's commitment of $604 million in additional Pharmac funding, Dr Shane Reti reiterates that Pharmac funding being left out on budget day was not intentional.

The Health Minister is reiterating that the Budget Day mishap over cancer treatments was a communication error and not an intentional omission like opposition parties have suggested.

Earlier in May, National's pre-election promise of 13 different cancer treatments was not included in budget day announcements, devastating cancer patients.

But yesterday, the government revealed they will commit $604 million over four years in additional Pharmac funding, covering 54 new medicines and 26 cancer treatments.

Speaking to William Terite on Pacific Mornings, Dr Shane Reti reiterated his apology, adding that it was always part of the plan.

"What we said yesterday was I apologised for the communication that didn't make it clear after budget what the plan was," Reti said.

"It left a vacuum, there was no obvious plan, [and] there was no progress report. We were figuring out how to get the implementation right which is really important.

"You can procure the medicines but if you can't implement them then that becomes problematic so we needed to get that absolutely right."

Watch the full interview via 531pi’s Facebook page below

The named cancer treatments in the package are targeted at first and second-line therapy, bowel, bladder, liver, lung, kidney, head and neck cancer.

A recent study found Pacific peoples are more likely to be diagnosed with and die from certain cancers, compared to Europeans. One of the research’s authors, Dr Ineke Meredith, said Pacific peoples also had poorer survival rates for most common cancers, including breast, prostate, lung and uterine cancer.

Opposition leader Chris Hipkins released a statement saying although he is relieved Pharmac will get much-needed funding, he questioned whether the funding decision was the result of pressure not planning.

“The funding for cancer medicines was supposed to come from scrapping universal free prescriptions in Budget 2024. Now it’s being borrowed from next year’s Budget instead," Hipkins said.

“Christopher Luxon has finally realised he was wrong but he is unwilling to admit it. If he had funded Pharmac from the start he could’ve saved so many families the anguish of waiting.

"He is yet to say sorry for the anguish he has caused people suffering from cancer up and down the country while they waited for the government to deliver on their promises."

Reti reiterated, following the announcement’s backlash that "at the end of the day, the time and urgency we had to move at pace and get that implementation sorted, it was what it was".

He added that figuring out the number of infusion seats needed and identifying the health status of NZ were time-consuming factors.

"That was always going to take a piece of time and we just weren't quite ready on budget day,” Reti said.

"I think for the 175,000 people who will benefit from this, all they see is themselves.

"That's the good thing when we stand back and think this is one of the biggest injections into Pharmac ever, for cancer medicines ever, that's the big picture."

Reti said the ball is now in Pharmac and Health New Zealand's court, a sentiment that Patient Voice Aotearoa (PVA) Chairman Malcolm Mulholland shares.

Malcolm Mulholland. Photo/Facebook

Mulholland said National's pre-election promise of 13 cancer treatments which is now doubled alongside 28 additional medicines is "really good news".

He adds that there's a general feeling of satisfaction with the announcement amongst advocates but that there is lingering anxiety over the delay.

While some of the cancer drugs could be available within three months, it could take a year before the rest of the treatments are available.

"Some patients don't get time to wait and some patients have already spent thousands and thousands of dollars on unfunded medicine," Mulholland said.

"We now shift our focus away from the government and onto Pharmac with the call to fund these drugs as quickly as you can.

"There's no reason why there should be a delay. If there are issues around the supply of the drug but the drugs are in Australia for example, then it shouldn't be that difficult.”