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Government response to public cancer care limitations

NZ Herald has reported on Mandy Grantley’s cancer story. After Mandy was first diagnosed with bowel cancer she underwent chemo for six months. After finding out that the cancer had spread to her lungs, an additional six months of chemo and an unfunded drug, Cytoxan was recommended by three oncologists working within the public health sector. Mandy was informed that she could have her chemo at her local DHB hospital. She was told that she had to pay $64,000 for the drug herself and was redirected to a private clinic to have the drug administered. The drug was intended to simply prolong her life. With a young family, a struggling business, and an existing mortgage Mandy and her friends decided to set up a Givealittle page to raise funds. The experience made Mandy reassess the public health system. National deputy leader Shane Reti is seeking MPs to support his bill that will allow privately-funded cancer medicines to be administered through DHBs. In response, Finance Minister Grant Robertson has said that Labour wouldn’t support the bill as it would be adding to existing inequalities. Instead, the Government would focus on funding more cancer treatments through Pharmac.

“A woman battling cancer says heartbreak has turned to anger at the way she was forced to pay $64,000 for treatment advised by public health oncologists.

Mandy Grantley was given two years to live after bowel cancer spread to her lungs last year.

"They found a tumour in my bowels and removed it, which was all good," she told RNZ. "I had six months worth of chemo. After that I had a scan and it all looked good. It wasn't until last year during lockdown I was told over the phone it had spread to my lungs."

Grantley said she was then told by three different oncologists working within the public health system that her best course of action would be another six months of chemo alongside being administered unfunded drug, Cytoxan.

She was told she would need to go to a private clinic to have the drug administered after paying for the drug herself, and then go to get chemo at her local DHB hospital. The news was traumatic and overwhelming.

"The chemo was bad enough, but then being told you had to pay $64,000 for a private drug, which won't cure me but will prolong my life, and a better quality of life, I just thought, I can't do this.

"I have three young kids and a husband with a struggling business, we don't have $64,000. We would be remortgaging the house, which we already had a huge mortgage on."

Concerned for her family, Grantley persevered and two friends set up a Givealittle page and managed to raise the money.

The private drug cost her $27,000. To get it administered she had to pay a private clinic $36,000.

Grantley says she knows how lucky she is, but remains angry others will not be able to access money or credit to save their own lives.

"It makes me sick to my stomach that others out there don't have that opportunity ...  those poor families behind me - it's just wrong," she said.

Having to go to two different medical facilities was also stressful and time-consuming, with Grantley relying on people to drive her to and from the clinic and public hospital, she added.

To add insult to injury Grantley had to pay $8000 GST on her treatment. The experience has made her reassess the merits of the public healthcare system and the Government's priorities.

"They're making money out of me dying. So much for a free health system. When you really need it, you're on your own and you don't know what it's like until someone close to you goes through it. I was really upset, I was heartbroken. But now I'm just damn well angry."

Grantley finished her treatment in November and her scans since have come back clear, the latest a scan in February. She has another scan this month and remains hopeful.

"I've never felt so good, never felt so healthy."

She said her health outcome so far had proved the efficacy of Cytoxan as an anti-cancer drug.

National deputy leader Shane Reti is asking MPs to support his bill seeking to allow privately-funded cancer medicines to be administered through DHBs, to reduce the financial burden on those with cancer.

However, Finance Minister Grant Robertson told RNZ the Government would not be supporting the bill when it comes before Parliament because it would only add to existing health inequalities.

"It is a challenging area where people are self-funding the drugs because obviously for the most part what we want to do is fund people's treatment through the public system and then all of the costs and so on associated with it are managed that way," he said.

"The reason that we're not looking to move in this area is because what effectively it would mean is that somebody who does have enough resources to fund their own treatment would end up taking up space in the public health system that would otherwise go to people whose cancer treatment is publicly funded.

"So actually it would have the effect of exacerbating inequality rather than creating fairness."

He said the Government was instead focused on funding more cancer treatments through its Crown entity Pharmac. Click here to read more

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