The susceptibility of his family to cancer and the "unfairness" of access to drugs prompted Whanganui man Ross Fallen to join a plea at Parliament yesterday for more money for Pharmac.

Melanoma survivors, patients and supporters gathered in Wellington to present an 11,000-signature petition calling on the Government to boost Pharmac's funding so it can subsidise melanoma drugs.

Petition organiser and melanoma survivor Leisa Renwick told Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, amid a crowd of media and supporters, that people were desperate. Ms Renwick was told last May that she had only weeks to live but is now in remission after an expensive private treatment of pembrolizumab, which has the brand name Keytruda.

Mr Fallen said about 150 people were at Parliament to get the Government to move on the issue.


"Here is a drug available in Australia and I think Canada and is available in New Zealand privately but the cost is prohibitive. Pharmac have said there is not enough data and doesn't allow it.

"But Pharmac has not had a budget increase in three years so in a way their hands are tied."

Mr Fallen said he joined the protest because "all bar one member of my family has passed away from cancer. All my uncles and aunties, my dad and my grandparents died from some form of cancer".

"I also lost a friend in Australia to melanoma.

"But it's also because if you have a terminal diagnosis and there is no medicine, you can face it.

"But it's different if there is something available. There is hope. Leisa was saying we have a free health system, but only the rich can afford it, and that's why she is still alive."

Mr Fallen has had cancer.

"I've had a whole series of skin cancers that have been removed and mole scans every two years or so over the last 10 years.

"I'm on a nervous watch."

He said he was "thrilled I did my little bit" in Wellington.

"That's all you can do, add to the voices by your presence. I did get a brief opportunity to meet Andrew Little and thank him for making that commitment."

Labour has said it would fund the drug for two years to test its worth.

Dr Coleman told the crowd he understood the need for urgency, and the Government was looking at how much more money Pharmac could be given as part of May's Budget.

"I believe a funded treatment is on the way ... I totally understand your sentiment that there isn't a moment to waste . . . the Government has heard your message. John Key has been following this issue very closely, and he knows all the ins and outs of it. I totally get your message that you need action, not more discussion, and we are working towards that."-More, page 17