National Party leader Simon Bridges recently outlined our plan for cancer care. It's a policy I'm particularly proud of, one that's long overdue, and one which will benefit every New Zealander.
Why, because cancer is the biggest cause of death in New Zealand. It doesn't discriminate and every New Zealander has a story of a loved one or friend who has been affected by cancer. About 9500 people die from cancer in New Zealand every year, and more than 22,000 are diagnosed.
We have announced a policy to create a new National Cancer Fund, which will invest an extra $200 million over four years for Pharmac to fund cancer drugs. And we'll ensure those drugs go to those who need them. We have also committed to introducing a National Cancer Agency to deliver better diagnoses, better access and better treatment for cancer sufferers across New Zealand.
New Zealanders shouldn't have to pack up their lives and go to other countries for cancer treatment. They shouldn't have to mortgage their houses, set up a Givealittle page or take out a big loan to be able to afford medicines which are funded in other countries.
The new National Cancer Agency will be involved in prevention, screening and treatment. New Zealand is a world leader in research and innovation, and the centre will also facilitate research so in the future we can prevent cancer and treat it more effectively.
Our National Cancer Fund will ensure that no matter where you live in New Zealand you will get the same standard of care. Too often people in regional New Zealand are disadvantaged because they don't have access to the same services as those in our biggest cities. Essentially it means everyone will have the same ability to get treatment and it means diagnoses can be made earlier.
According to Dr Chris Jackson, medical director for the Cancer Society of New Zealand, 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, as does access to genetic testing. The type of radiation treatment you get, even the types of operations, can vary wildly depending on where you live.
The result is that people have died when their lives may have been extended. In fact, if New Zealand had the cancer survival rate of Australia, around 500 fewer people per year would lose their lives to cancer.
As an MP I hear very personal and heartbreaking stories about constituents and their experiences fighting cancer and a system that sometimes doesn't seem fair.
National's Cancer Fund is a priority for us because it's the right thing to do. It will help thousands of Kiwis. And our commitment will ensure that your address won't affect your prognosis. We should have a health system that is fair for everyone. At the same time, New Zealanders with cancer should not be precluded from access to life saving and life-prolonging drugs. It's as simple as that.
* Ian McKelvie is the National MP for Rangitikei.