This Socialist Government Is Responsible for Class-based Healthcare

A close friend was diagnosed some years ago with HER2 positive breast cancer which has a high risk of recurrence. At the time, Herceptin was not government-funded, but without it, her probability of survival dropped dramatically.  Unsurprisingly, she added a mortgage and fundraised most of the $130K for the Herceptin treatment to improve her chances. It worked. Pharmac now supplies the drug to all socio-economic groups – thanks to a National government.

The same argument applies to newer breast cancer drugs available overseas but not in our public health system. 

I doubt National will get many votes from the left on the strength of their $200M commitment to fund cancer treatment drugs within the first 100 days of office if it gets elected – but why isn’t this socialist government working on removing the class distinction in healthcare?

New Zealand women with advanced breast cancer die faster than in any other country. Given our lengthy hospital waiting lists, there is a good argument for improving the diagnostic process, and it is not known whether our appalling statistics are due to delays in diagnosis or the non-funding of new cancer drugs.

What is known is that the current government could have allocated $200M a year ago into either additional cancer drugs or speeding up hospital processes. Instead, they chucked money at countless working groups and a gun buyback with a dubious life-saving result.

“In Budget 2018 the Government decided not to reinvest the $200m of savings made by Pharmac taking over the purchase of hospital-based medicines into new medicines. This was a huge lost opportunity.

National Party Press Statement

Health Minister David Clarke argued that Pharmac should not be subject to political pressure in its drug purchasing and blocked a Health Select Committee Inquiry into Pharmac last April.

“National members voted in favour and the Labour and NZ First members voted against the motion, which resulted in the motion being lost.

“Malcolm Mulholland raised the possibility of an inquiry with the Select Committee last year and Labour members were supportive, but when he spoke to the Committee Chair Louisa Wall again in February she alluded to the inquiry being blocked by Health Minister David Clark.

“If this is the case then Dr Clark needs to come clean, and make sure he is not interfering with the Select Committee that he himself has said should be a ‘watchdog’ for his own actions.

“The Committee also received a petition to fund breast cancer drugs Ibrance and Kadcyla, with heart-breaking submissions from women with advanced breast cancer. They want answers as to why these drugs aren’t being funded and a broader inquiry of Pharmac would shed some light to the quality, transparency and timing of decision-making.”


Simon Bridges told the National Party Conference the funding will be spread over four years and ring-fenced for cancer treatment drugs. Pharmac cannot reallocate it or roll the $50M annual allocation into another year. 

“New Zealanders shouldn’t have to pack up their lives and go to other countries for cancer treatment,” he told the party faithful.

“New Zealanders shouldn’t have to mortgage their houses, set up a Givealittle page or take out massive loans to be able to afford medicines which are funded in other countries.”

He said the current Government isn’t putting enough into Pharmac to keep up with inflation or population, and patients currently are subject to a “postcode lottery”, with levels of care varying between district health boards.

“The agency will be involved in prevention, screening and treatment. New Zealand is a world leader in research and innovation, so the centre will also facilitate research so that in the future we can prevent cancer and treat it more effectively. “

“If they don’t use it, they don’t get it.”

Pharmac will be told to buy drugs that “demonstrate high levels of effectiveness internationally”.

“We don’t want just more drugs – we want drugs that will save lives.”

Par for the course, this government previously promised a cancer agency to end the “post-code lottery of cancer care”, and, as usual, did not deliver on this promise.