Cancer survivors and MPs Shane Jones and Nikki Kaye became embroiled in a debate in Question Time over the extent to which real people and their complaints about their treatment should be raised by the Opposition.

It followed questions by National's health spokesman, Michael Woodhouse, who cited testimony from people with cancer and their families to media or at select committees.

Among a series of others, he read out a letter from a young child about Health Minister David Clark.

"Has he seen a report of [Claudine] Johnstone's 8-year-old daughter, Lucy, telling her classmates in Australia: 'My dad talked to a man called David Clark. He promised if he was in government he would make cancer care in Aotearoa better, but he lied'?" Woodhouse asked.

Claudine Johnstone is reported to have moved to Australia this year after being unable to get the treatment she needed from Pharmac.

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The questions prompted a complaint from NZ First MP Jones, who had bowel cancer before entering politics, that Woodhouse had used the suffering of families to attack Clark.

"As a cancer survivor I warn anyone trying to make politics out of that," he said.

"He made a statement which imputed that the Minister of Health was deriving better livelihood by not attending to the cases ... Not only does that lower the tone of the House, but it is very unfair on those New Zealand families that they should be used in such a grubby political manner."

National MP Michael Woodhouse says families have a right for their stories to be heard in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National MP Michael Woodhouse says families have a right for their stories to be heard in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

But National's Kaye, who battled breast cancer, said it was a matter of keeping the Government accountable.

"I have had my reputation impugned around the death of an individual [as an associate minister] ... it is not unusual in this House to have that level of accountability around individual constituents," she said.

"Shane Jones has said he's a cancer survivor, but so am I. And what I know is that there are a huge number of New Zealanders for which they lobby Members of Parliament so their cases are raised in this House. That is their right as democratic citizens."

That was echoed by Deputy Speaker and former Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, who said she had been blamed for a child's death while in Government.

"This is a frequent practice in this House … For someone to take offence at it now, or be disturbed by it now that the boot is on the other foot is a bit rich," she said.

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Woodhouse stood by his questions.

"These patients have an expectation that the Opposition will compare the description of wellbeing that has been articulated by the Government with their lived experience," he said.

MP Nikki Kaye says hearing from the public is about holding the Government to account. Photo / Nick Reed
MP Nikki Kaye says hearing from the public is about holding the Government to account. Photo / Nick Reed

While Speaker Trevor Mallard said the questions had been "bulked out for political effect", the decision was a matter of taste and not a new phenomenon in the House.

"There would be a large number of members who would be of the view that the approach the member took was not appropriate," he said.

"But that, Speakers have generally ruled, has been a matter for the member asking the question."

Outside the house, Clarke wouldn't say if he thought Woodhouse had crossed a line.

"It's really important that individual experiences of people are able to be spoken about with the permission of those people in the House," he said.

"At the same time, we have to be very careful where individual lives are concerned and people are in fragile and difficult circumstances."

The line of questioning on Thursday followed earlier Opposition attacks in the week about whether Pharmac had been given enough funding in this year's Budget.