Kaitaia woman Donna MacMillan is delighted that a $60 million boost in Pharmac's funding might see the unsubsidised breast cancer medication that is keeping her alive become available on a $5 prescription - if she lives long enough.
MacMillan is basing her hopes on a new 10-year cancer control plan announced by the Ministry of Health (MoH) over the weekend, which includes increasing Pharmac's budget and speed of action.
''Our group is ecstatic that it could be free from next April, which will be wonderful for women with stage four breast cancer,'' MacMillan said.
''It's too late for me, I've already paid $66,000, $6000 a month, for my Ibrance. That's the cap the Government put on what women have to spend before they qualify to get it for the cost of a $5 prescription.''
Ibrance and another unsubsidised drug Kadcyl are life-extending medications for women with terminal, late-stage breast cancer. They inhibit the rapid spread of cancer, offering the sufferer more time - around 18 months to two years.
MacMillan and her husband worked extra jobs, fundraised, opened a Givealittle page and sold assets over the past 11 months to pay the $66,000 for her monthly doses.
''I hate the thought of other woman going through this, and I know I'm not the only one in Northland who's had to do it. It's still 'wait and see' regarding whether Pharmac will pay [for Ibrance and Kadcyl] but we're more confident than before.''
The "wait and see" will apply to several aspects of the new national approach to cancer care and control. Cancer Society New Zealand said the plan, which it had input into, is still light on some details although strong on ambitions.
What is sure is that Pharmac will get a funding boost of $40 million in this first year and $20m in the next, on top of $10m in this year's Budget, for cancer drugs, and the new Cancer Control Agency will be in full swing by December 1. One of the agency's tasks is to set up a system to fast-track Pharmac's drug funding decisions.
With four or five months to go before the new agency is up and running, Northland District Health Board's pharmacy head could not comment on how the changes might impact its current systems, a spokeswoman said.
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Jenni Moore, manager of Cancer Society Northland branch, said she welcomed the new agency and agreed with its accent on equity for all New Zealanders. The plan clearly intends ending the ''postcode lottery'' that has largely decided people's treatment depending on where they live.
''Northland has unique challenges in terms of population deprivation and geographic spread, which are some of the factors that make things worse for us,'' Moore said.
The latest new cancer registration, in 2016, showed 1143 people with cancer in Northland; a cancer incidence rate of 346 per 100,000 people compared with the national rate of 331. The mortality rate in Northland is 136, compared with the national rate of 122.
Cancer Society NZ medical director Dr Chris Jackson described the new plan as a positive step toward a first-class system for all New Zealanders.
He said the cancer agency would be "the people's agency", implying former systems and bureaucracies had not been. New Zealand's progress on cancer had stalled and a new national approach was imperative, Jackson said.
"But we can't lift outcomes without spending in the key areas identified in the plan.''
World-leading public health physician and cancer epidemiologist Professor Diana Sarfati, who also helped design the agency, has been appointed as its interim national director.