Thousands of cancer sufferers are expected to benefit from a $200 million fund over four years dedicated to cancer drugs if National win the 2020 election.
At the annual conference in Christchurch this morning, National leader Simon Bridges also pledged an expert-led Cancer Agency, independent from the Ministry of Health and district health boards.
It would be tasked with getting rid of the "postcode lottery" system that currently provides different treatment to different patients, depending on where they live.
The move was welcomed by the Cancer Society, which has been calling for just such an agency, and Southland dad Blair Vining, whose petition to Parliament called for one too.
"New Zealanders shouldn't have to pack up their lives and go to other countries for cancer treatment, " Bridges told the party's annual conference his morning.
"New Zealanders shouldn't have to set up Givealittle pages just to stay alive. The next National Government will fund and dedicate an extra $200 million for Pharmac to fund cancer drugs."
Bridges said the agency would be set up within 100 days of National taking power and cost $10 million a year, which would be funded within Ministry of Health baselines.
The agency would be involved in prevention, screening and treatment. DHBs would be held accountable to the agency for the targets and indicators the agency set.
National would ring-fence an extra $50 million a year for four years to go to Pharmac for cancer drugs.
If Pharmac didn't use the money, it wouldn't get it.
Implementation would be key. The British Medical Journal said that the UK's Cancer Drugs Fund was overhauled after it failed to deliver "meaningful value" to cancer patients and may have exposed them to "toxic side-effects of drugs".
About 9500 people die from cancer and more than 22,000 are diagnosed in New Zealand every year.
About 23,000 people were affected by cancer and 12,000 a year had drug therapy.
Pharmac currently chooses how it spends its money and does not have a dedicated cancer fund.
In the year to June 2017, it spent $204 million of its $850 million budget on cancer drugs.
Bridges told media after his address that if the Government had wanted to set up an agency, it would have already done so.
He said he didn't think the "use it or lose it" rule for the money would not pressure Pharmac into funding drugs that weren't proven.
It would be up to Pharmac which cancer drugs to fund, and its usual processes would apply, he said.
The Government is expected to announce a cancer care plan soon, though Labour is yet to move on its 2017 election pledge to set up a national cancer agency and Health Minister David Clark has expressed reservations about an agency.
Dr Chris Jackson, medical director for the Cancer Society of New Zealand, said the current system, developed over the last 10 to 15 years, was a "post-code lottery".
"Waiting times to see specialists vary wildly around the country. Access to genetic testing varies wildly around the country. The type of radiation treatment you get, even the types of operations, can vary wildly, depending on where you are around the country."
The result was that people had died when they shouldn't have, he said. If New Zealand had the cancer survival rate of Australia, 2500 fewer people would die over five years.
An independent agency was also key, Jackson said.
"When you have cancer care under the watch of politicians, things go in political cycles and you don't get the long-term strategic planning that you need.
"The bowel-cancer screening programme, the experts said it should have been done much quicker with a much higher investment, and politicians didn't want to invest the money."
Bridges signalled his support for an agency on Thursday when he presented a petition calling for one from Blair Vining, who has bowel cancer.
The Vinings were invited to Bridges' announcement today, but couldn't make it as Vining's cancer has spread to his pelvis, hips and spine.
"He's not doing so well but he's really positive," Melissa Vining said.
"He keeps saying he's going to hang around until the job's done. We're hoping he's here to see some change and that all the people who have suffered, it hasn't been for nothing."
She told the Herald yesterday that a national agency that ensured consistent treatment across the country would have allowed Blair Vining, a father of two, to get treatment earlier.
"If we had lived in Auckland, Blair would have been seen in a week to 10 days. Instead we were given a letter that said six weeks and a phone call that said six to eight weeks."
She said his drug treatment might cost less than $3500 a week, and he may not have had to wait up to 12 weeks for radiation treatment.
"You shouldn't be penalised by where you live. You should be able to access good cancer care when you need it."
The Government has put about $6.4 billion more into health over the last two budgets, but it is unclear how much of that is for cancer care.