Recognition for NZ advocate as campaign demands cancer medicines funding

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Rachel Smalley, founder of New Zealand's Medicine Gap initiative, has been recognised in the King's Birthday Honours List for services to broadcasting and health advocacy.

Ms Smalley, who spoke and moderated sessions at the recent BPD Annual Conference, has played a leading role in highlighting issues with decision-making at New Zealand's health procurement agency, Pharmac.

She obtained internal Pharmac communications via New Zealand's access to personal information laws. The emails revealed senior staff at the organisation, including chief executive Sarah Fitt, denigrating Ms Smalley and patients.

Ms Smalley has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit as she supports a new campaign involving a coalition of cancer patient groups calling on the Government to act on its pre-election commitment to fund medicines for 13 cancer types.

The policy's implementation was not included in last week's budget. However, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and Finance Minister Nicola Willis have committed to funding the medicines.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, 15 cancer patient organisations have called for action. 

"As you stated, Prime Minister, those 13 medicines are for lung, bowel, kidney, melanoma, and head and neck cancers that provide significant clinical benefits and are funded in Australia but not in New Zealand.  Under National, New Zealanders will not have to leave the country, mortgage their home, or start a Givealittle page to fund potentially lifesaving and life-extending treatments that are proven to work and are readily available across the Tasman," says the letter.

It says, "Cancer patients and advocates sat in disbelief when the budget was announced.  We have now learnt that those 13 medicines may not be funded for at least a year. Patients don’t have a year to wait and will sadly have to look at all the heartbreaking scenarios your party wanted to put an end to. Bowel cancer patients have already been waiting for 22 years, the last time a new medicine was funded to treat them."

"We implore you to make good on your commitment to fund these 13 medicines with the utmost urgency. As you may also know, no blood cancers and certain solid tumour cancers like breast and prostate, are not catered for in the list of 13 medicines.  We welcome the opportunity to work with you to address New Zealand’s medicines crisis that sees hundreds of thousands of kiwis miss out on medicines that are funded in most other developed countries.  But for now, let’s make a start and see you deliver on your commitment to fund those 13 cancer medicines," says the letter.