Meeting with decision makers to press for action to save and extend lives
Representatives of Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC) went to Wellington recently to meet with Government and National MPs who have health responsibilities to discuss some of the key issues affecting those with breast cancer.
The two key issues highlighted by BCAC in the talks were the need to improve access to medicines; and the need to address inequities for Māori and Pasifika women in breast cancer screening and treatment.
The meetings were with the Associate Minister of Health Hon. Julie Anne Genter, Labour’s Health and Wellbeing Caucus member Hon. Louisa Wall and National’s Health spokesperson Hon. Michael Woodhouse.
The BCAC representatives were Chairperson Libby Burgess, Secretary Fay Sowerby, Committee member Irene Kereama-Royal and Metavivors NZ member Terre Nicholson.
Libby says it was a good opportunity to form relationships with people who can make a difference: “We really hope the talks will have impact. We shared our perspectives on the action needed to resolve the issues.
“We found the Associate Minister of Health Hon. Julie Anne Genter very responsive and interested in what we had to say.
“After the talks, we are optimistic that steps may be taken to enable Breastscreen Aotearoa to contact women via their NHI number to enrol them in the national breast screening programme. We also got the impression that some moves to address inequities for Māori and Pasifika may be taken.
“We are hopeful the breast screening age will be lowered to 40 to increase the likelihood of Māori and Pasifika women’s cancers being detected earlier. All these steps will be subject to Government decisions but we intend to stay in touch with the decision makers to follow this up,” Libby says.
All three people BCAC met with expressed interest in receiving a petition from Terre calling for Government funding of palbociclib (Ibrance). Palbociclib is a new medicine for treating advanced oestrogen-receptor-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer. The petition has more than 20,000 signatures and counting. The petition notes that palbociclib is one of the only drugs that has been shown to extend life expectancy by years by keeping the hormone suppression medications working.
The petition will be taken to Parliament by Terre, Metavivors NZ and BCAC and will then be referred to Parliament’s multi-party Health Select Committee for consideration.
Libby says there is a need for change and ways forward that will benefit all.
Below is a brief summary of the information BCAC presented to the MPs, and the actions BCAC is calling on the Government to take. To see the full briefing presented see the attached document.
There are a number of breakthrough cancer drugs that give longer, healthier lives to women with different types of breast cancer that are not available in New Zealand. Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition calls for better access to breast cancer medicines for New Zealanders – to ensure equity, improve quality of life, reduce suffering and prevent unnecessary deaths.
- Increase funding for the pharmaceuticals budget to the OECD average.
- Explore options to facilitate access to new and innovative medicines, including Early Access Schemes and Cancer Drug Funds.
- Reform PHARMAC’s processes to increase transparency, establish defined timelines for funding decisions and involve consumers throughout the decision-making process, including as Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee (PTAC) members.
- Ensure PHARMAC applies new criteria to fund medicines based not only on cost, but on value and on the needs of people, whānau and communities, e.g. extending women’s lives so that they can care for their children for longer.
- Ensure that PHARMAC’s decisions take into account their impact on the efficient functioning of other parts of the health system, e.g. an injectable version of a drug that would reduce pressure on infusion services, or drugs that improve survival and reduce palliative care costs
Inequity for Māori and Pasifika
Māori and Pasifika women are disproportionately affected by breast cancer, with alarming mortality rates that need to be addressed with better screening and treatment. Recent research has identified that Māori women are 76% more likely and Pasifika women twice as likely to die from the disease after five years than New Zealand European women.
- Increase health literacy including women’s understanding of the need to take part in breast cancer screening and to continue with their treatment.
- Introduce breast cancer screening programmes targeted to population groups, such as Māori and Pasifika.
- Introduce screening at age 40 to increase the likelihood of Māori and Pasifika women’s cancers being detected earlier.
- Enable contact with women via their NHI number to enrol them in the national breast screening programme.
- Increase breast cancer funding in the public health system and ensure the public system welcomes women of all cultures equally and appropriately.
- Support New Zealand-based clinical trials to find ways to improve outcomes for Māori and Pasifika with breast cancer.
8 July 2018