Scrap fees-free policy and buy cancer drugs - National

News 08/03/2019

National says Kiwi cancer patients are missing out on treatment because the Government would rather spend money on education than health.

Since last year, the first year of tertiary education has been fully funded. Labour plans to increase this to two years in 2021 and three years in 2024, provided it's still in charge.

But National MP Judith Collins says it's a "waste of money" that's costing Kiwis their health.

"Pharmac is a very good organisation, and Oppositions generally have a go at them on various drugs and things - and sometimes we're right to, because sometimes they are a little bit slower in funding various treatments," she told The AM Show on Friday.

"But they only have a budget that a Government gives them."

Parliament's Health Select Committee in December heard from two cancer patients asking for Pharmac - New Zealand's drug-buying agency - to fund kadcyla and palbociclib. Both drugs have since been given limited support - they are available, but not to everyone.

The Māori Affairs Select Committee is also looking into inequities in the health system, and how the Pharmac model may be contributing to it, with Māori far more likely to die of cancer than other groups.

"I would have thought the smartest thing with Pharmac would be to give them the money they need for the cancer drugs that they need to put out at the moment," said Ms Collins. "I guess all the money floating around in Government at the moment, they might like to give them a bit more money.

"Tertiary-free first-year for students took $2 billion. How about we put that money into Pharmac? ... a complete waste of money."

Labour MP Kris Faafoi, appearing alongside Ms Collins, said it was a real conundrum.

"It is a limited pot, and I think we've got be careful - we're politicians, not clinicians."

The $2 billion Labour promised for tertiary education is to be spent over four years, and includes not just the fees-free initiative but also an increase to student allowances.