Hobson Article - June 2016

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Recently I went along to a Parliamentary breakfast held by the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation (NZBF).  I didn’t know too much about it, other than that my friend and well-known Remuera resident Dame Rosie Horton was a patron and had travelled to the capital to participate.  She has made such a great contribution to so many worthy causes that I’ll always try to support anything in which she is involved.  The event, also featuring the Foundation’s ambassador Lorraine Downes, had more style than anything I’m used to as Minister of Commerce.

Of course, as a son, a husband and a father of girls, I have as much interest as anyone in learning about the NZBF’s work and about the progress we’ve made in battling breast cancer, which still claims more than 600 Kiwi women each year.  We’ve made good progress in prevention through extended free national breast screening, as well as improved treatment.  And there’s still much to do.

More often than not, discussion about improved health outcomes ends up with a desire for increased investment.  I’ve never met anyone who isn’t interested in having access to the latest treatments, if they or someone they love falls ill. These have to be paid for. As our economy grows stronger, we can afford more of the latest innovations the world has to offer.

Our most recent announcement will see an extra $124 million invested in Pharmac over the next four years. Pharmac’s budget for 2016/17 will be a record $850 million.

This increase in funding will allow the government agency to provide more New Zealanders with access to new medicines. It will also provide Pharmac with more options on new medicines it can fund. 

One of the drugs Pharmac intends to fund is Opdivo, a drug used to treat advanced melanoma. New Zealand currently has the highest rate of melanoma in the world, a serious illness that affects about 350 people each year.

Other drugs to be funded includes treatments for hepatitis C. We have the prospect of a major advancement in the treatment of hepatitis C, with new drugs offering cure rates of more than 90 per cent.

Last year more than 70,000 New Zealanders benefited from 41 new and widened access medicines.

This year’s budget, Bill English’s eighth, has at its heart a focus on the economy.  As ever, the economic and social sides of our agenda are closely linked. A strong economy means a strong health system.