Government announces Cancer Control Agency and PHARMAC funding boost

The Government is taking action to ensure New Zealanders living with cancer have access to high quality care no matter who they are, or where they live.

“Cancer touches just about every one of us at some stage in our lives. On average 66 people every day are diagnosed with cancer – and they deserve world-class care,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“We campaigned on improving cancer care and establishing a national cancer agency because after years of underfunding by the previous government our standard of care is variable and we have work to do to ensure better outcomes for Māori and Pacific people.”

The Government has today released the Cancer Action Plan for 2019-2029. Key actions to improve cancer care and outcomes include:

  • More medicines for more people through an immediate funding boost for PHARMAC and faster decision making process 
  • Establish a Cancer Control Agency to ensure consistent standards nationwide
  • Strengthen our focus on prevention and screening – fewer cancers, earlier detection
  • Appoint an National Director of Cancer Control and create a single National Cancer Control Network
  • Develop cancer-specific Quality Performance Indicators to improve equity of care

“Modernising our approach to cancer care and improving survival rates is a long-term challenge, but there are a number of things we can do to make a difference straight away,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“The first step was the announcement earlier this month of funding for 12 new Linear Accelerators for radiation treatment, including plans to put machines into Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki and Northland for the first time.

“Today we’re also announcing an extra $60 million in funding for PHARMAC ($20 million this year and $40 million in 2020/21). PHARMAC has advised us this will mean it can fund a range of new medicines, including several new cancer treatments.

“From next year, PHARMAC will also speed up its decision making by considering applications for funding at the same time as Medsafe assesses the safety of new medicines rather than waiting until that work is complete as it does currently. Work on options for early access to new cancer medicines is also progressing well,” Jacinda Ardern said.

Health Minister Dr David Clark said the Government has listened to calls for strong central leadership and will deliver the promised Cancer Control Agency by 1 December 2019.

“Cancer care is woven into so much of the work that our public health service does, so while the Agency will have its own chief executive, it makes sense for it to be housed within the Ministry of Health.

“I’m also pleased to announce that leading public health physician and cancer epidemiologist Professor Diana Sarfati has been appointed interim National Director of Cancer Control, starting immediately. She will lead work to improve the quality of treatment.

“An immediate priority will be establishing quality performance indicators for specific cancer types. This will mean we can measure progress towards consistent care across DHBs.

“We are also combining the four current regional cancer control networks into a National Network to help remove regional variations in care,” Dr Clark said.

Work on implementing the Cancer Action Plan begins immediately, but there is an opportunity for the public and health professionals to provide feedback on the Plan before it is finalised next year.

“This is a comprehensive ten-year Plan that covers the full spectrum of cancer control, from prevention and screening to treatment and palliative care. It looks at workforce issues, research and data collection – all of which are critical to the delivery of successful services.

“In the end, though, the Plan’s number one focus is improving outcomes for New Zealanders. We want to see fewer cancers, earlier detection and better treatment for everyone living with cancer,” David Clark said.

Biographical information: Professor Diana Sarfati

Professor Diana Sarfati (MBChB, MPH, PhD, FNZCPHM) is a public health physician, cancer epidemiologist and health services researcher with a world leading reputation in cancer control strategy and research.

Professor Sarfati has agreed to a six month appointment as the Ministry of Health’s interim National Director of Cancer Control.

Professor Sarfati’s permanent role is as Head of the Department of Public Health and the Director of the Cancer and Chronic Conditions (C3) Research Group at University of Otago, Wellington.

She has led a large body of research relating to ethnic disparities in cancer outcomes in New Zealand. Her work has been instrumental in identifying the existence of and potential pathways to deal with inequalities in cancer outcomes in Aotearoa / New Zealand.

Professor Sarfati is currently a member of the New Zealand National Cancer Leadership Board, the bowel cancer screening advisory committee, the Advisory Committee to International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) Pacific cancer hub, IARC’s Expert Advisory Committee on Social Inequities and Cancer, the Academic Advisory Committee on the International Cancer Benchmarking Project, and the Lancet Oncology International Advisory Committee.

She is a past member of the National Ethics Advisory Committee, National Screening Advisory Group, the Bowel Cancer Screening Taskforce, the National Bowel Cancer Working Group, the Board of the Cancer Society (Wellington Division), and the National Cancer Society Health Promotion Committee.

She focuses on action and on delivering outcomes and is also recognised for building strong national and international networks.