Just finished reading the transcript of a Q&A interview between Jack Tame and Simon Bridges posted on Scoop. Amongst all of the other circumlocutions and the wheedling of a conniving prosecutor was the hypocrisy over cancer drugs. He wants to make a relatively token amount towards funding super-expensive cancer drugs – but doesn’t want to deal with root causes or prevention of cancer? It beggars belief that this fool is a politician.
SIMON I would argue that thousands of people will be better off under this $50m a year for Pharmac specifically for cancer drugs.
JACK Let me ask, then, about broader issues around it– around cancer. Do you oppose alcohol advertising?
JACK Okay. Do you oppose the advertising of junk food to young people in New Zealand?
SIMON Well, it depends what you mean by young people and all the quid pro quos that go with that. But I’m sorry, Jack, we’re not the fun police.
JACK Just let me speak. Do you support–? Okay, well, here’s what–
SIMON I’m not going to live in a world where all you get when you sit down is a few peas and a piece of broccoli. That’s not the world that New Zealanders want to live in.
JACK You’ve pledged $50m. The Cancer Society says 30% to 50% of cancers – an enormous amount of cancers – could be prevented by modifying key lifestyle factors and infections. And the things they say should be prioritised in New Zealand – and we’re talking about a stitch-in-time solution here – is reducing the marketing of unhealthy food to children, a national food ban– food policy or plan, and policies restricting the availability and promotion of alcohol. I’ll remind you when National was in government, you scrapped the healthy foods in school plan, but you don’t support any further restrictions on the causes of these cancers.
SIMON What I support is significant more funding for cancer drugs, because right now in New Zealand— When they fund them in Aussie, when they fund them in the UK, when they fund them in Canada, they don’t here. People are mortgaging their homes, selling their homes, setting up Givealittle pages. That’s not the sort of New Zealand I want to live in. But let me answer your question squarely; I’m not going to— And maybe Jacinda Ardern and David Clark want to go down this track. I’m not going to live in a world that’s nanny state, that tells New Zealanders what they can and can’t do, what they can and can’t say, because I don’t believe in that. Freedom’s important too.
JACK I’m merely suggesting that if you really cared about our cancer rates, you might consider the root cause, and this is from the Cancer Society.
This is the conundrum of funding highly expensive and usually largely experimental terminal level drugs using the public health system. In this case providing just $50 million is only going to be sufficient to provide a relatively few people a few more doses of drugs. Drugs that are unlikely to cure them, but may possibly hold off deaths for a few more weeks or months.
And it is clear that money that National is planning to rort for these drugs will be taken from other parts of the health system budget. In effect depriving other citizens from what they currently can expect from the already overstretched health budgets. This was avoided earlier in the interview by Simon.
Prevention is usually far more effective and invariably cheaper than curing late stage diseases.
That involves taxes and regulation on known harmful behaviours like smoking, drinking alcohol, drifting some kinds of agricultural sprays over people and animals, reducing heavy metals in the environment, providing clean water, regulating food preparation, and all of those nitty-gritty bits of real politics that Simon obviously doesn’t want to do.
Having more checkups is less traumatic than suffering the side-effects of chemo, radiation, and drug side-effects. It is also way less expensive.
A few times a year the vampires at LabTest draw my blood, test it, and inform my doctor on what they find there. I’ve started suffering the old-age indignity of having occasionally having to crap into a plastic container to provide a stool sample to check for bowel cancers. My partner even at her youngish age has regular breast checks because of a family history of breast cancers.
None of these cost much either per person or for the country as a whole. What they do is to reduce the probability of finding cancers and a host of other problems too late to do anything apart from performing heroic failures. The type of ineffective noble gesture of the type that Simon clearly would like to be seen to be doing.
With cancers, finding them early enough is invariably the best. The various of my friends and family who have survived cancers, often multiple forms of cancer in some, invariably found them early and were successfully treated. Usually they went on to some quite remarkable later lives for decades with constant monitoring. The ones who found them late usually died within years. There were some who simply didn’t survive even early detection because the progression was so fast.
Simon came across in that interview as being a stupid light weight who is more concerned with placating potential corporate donors than doing the actual job he wants us to vote him to do.
Politics isn’t just about raising indignation to win and vague useless gestures. It is also about showing that you can do the nitty-gritty of balancing the competing demands to produce the fairest and most effective outcomes. You can’t weasel around that with splashy and essentially hopeless promises of diverting health money from saving the many to briefly helping a very very few.
Simon placed himself firmly at the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff because he appears to be too lazy or too scared of donors to put fences at the top.