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Doorstop interview at Royal North Shore Private Hospital

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's doorstop interview at the Royal North Shore Private Hospital in Sydney.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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I’m delighted to be here today at the Royal North Shore Private Hospital with Trent Zimmerman, Member for North Sydney, Professor Stephen Clarke, Dr Matthew Greenwood and Bill Petch who is from the Leukaemia Foundation.

We’re really thrilled to be with them, but also with patients.

Patients that we've met today such as Severino who's about to start Keytruda for his mesothelioma, with patients such as Peter and Mike for lung cancer, where they have had the support or they're in the process of receiving the support of Keytruda as a treatment for them.

With Kelly, who has had treatment with Blincyto which has allowed her to have for her acute lymphoblastic leukaemia a bone marrow transplant.

And we are very hopeful Kelly that for you and for all of your friends and family, this is a very bright future.

So today is about saving lives and protecting lives.

I am delighted to be able to announce that as of the 1st of December, the Australian Government will list two new medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

In particular, we will list Keytruda for non-small cell metastatic lung cancer. And this is a condition which we believe will have up to 2200 patients benefit and save up to $120,000 a year.

Patients who would otherwise never have been able to afford this medicine will now have access and instead of $120,000 a year, it will be $40.30 or $6.50 a script.

And that's access that means every Australian can get the treatment to which they aspire.

And if Stephen or if Matthew or other leading medical doctors believe that it's appropriate then that's a wonderful opportunity.

In terms of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia - Kelly's condition - we will make available Blincyto on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

This is expected to help about 86 patients in any one year.

It has a very specialised targeted approach and that will give them real hope that would otherwise cost up to $150,000 a year, it would be beyond the reach of virtually every Australian.

And in doing this, we're thankful for the work of our companies and our medical researchers, our clinicians and our amazing nurses.

Severino’s view was that the care that he was receiving here was the best that anybody could receive anywhere in the world.

And that speaks volumes for our doctors, our nurses and our carers. And I want to acknowledge Richard, you and everybody here at Royal North Shore Private.

That's just a tremendous step forward. I think (inaudible) if you wanted to say anything.


I’ll just say a few words. So thank you Minister.


Can I get you – sorry – can you just say your name and position?


My name’s Professor Stephen Clarke. I'm a medical oncologist at North Shore Private and the Northern Cancer Institute.

I'd like to thank you for coming and for announcing this. This is tremendous for our patients.

We are gradually turning these diseases into chronic illnesses that people can live with rather than being dominated by, and this is fantastic.

The TGA and PBAC have spent a lot of time improving the speed of access for our patients so our access is world class. People often take it for granted, what we've got.

I think everyone around the world is envious of our situation. So thanks again and thanks to (inaudible) for what you’re doing for our patients.


Professor, can I just ask you whilst you’re there. The Keytruda – so I gather the effect is that it will speed up access beyond a certain point that you have to reach now?


So previously the availability of Keytruda was for people who had a certain protein level of abnormality on their lung cancer.

This is more generalising the access for lung cancer patients, which means we now have a number of different choices for lung cancer patients with immunotherapy, which has changed the nature of this illness.

I've now got quite a large number of patients who are alive five years after diagnosis with metastatic lung cancer and we didn't see that before.

People used to die within three to 12 months. So it's really changing the face of lung cancer.


So the immuno process, I suppose, that’s the new age I guess?


Yeah and these have come on fairly quickly.

As the Minister pointed out to me, the Nobel Prize for these drugs was only given within the last few years, but the access for our patients has come fairly rapidly, and this is essential to be able us, to keep up with the science and provide access to patients with the best care.


And Minister, this is the, I guess, the financial side of it, keeping up with science.


Well it is, and Australians will now have the best access in the world to Keytruda.

The broadest access in the world to Keytruda and to Michael from MSD, thank you and it's also a recognition of your work in Australia. And so by bringing these new medicines we're literally saving lives and protecting lives.

Peter who’s here today was, we believe, the first patient in Australia to have access to Keytruda.

He was diagnosed and then treated eight years ago. And at that stage he said he was given six months, well he went past six months, he went past six years and he’s at eight years and looking dangerously fit, if I may say so.


Minister, from a, you know, one doesn’t really want to look at it in this way, but from a budgetary position, how is the financial side of it keeping up with scientific breakthroughs on these sorts of?


Well we have a very- but that is an important question.

We have a very clear policy and that is if the medical experts recommend them, we will list them. And that hasn't always been the case in Australian history.

There was a period in 2011 when the then government stopped the listing of new medicines which the medical experts had recommended.

But it's perhaps the most important symbol of why you have a strong economy. If you've got a strong economy, you can list all of the new medicines.

And yes, some of them are more than $100,000, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year per patient.

But that is the mark of a strong economy, but much more importantly, it's the mark of a strong society and a community which believes that each life matters.


So Minister, look, if I could ask you whilst you’re there on the matter of David Roberts - a decorated police officer, seemingly only weeks to live.

You've obviously intervened on this matter. Are you disappointed as it currently stands with the response?


I know this case very well. We worked very, very closely with the New South Wales Government to make the treatment available and that treatment has been made available.

It’s a clinical decision, which means it's a matter for the doctors. I would hope that every possible treatment that could be made available will be explored by the medical community.

I know they're passionate about it but ultimately, our advice is that it's the medical community or the doctors that are making what's called a clinical decision.

But we would really hope that given that all of the impediments had been removed, that any possible medical option would be explored.


You don't find it surprising given the circumstances here?


Look, let me just say, when we made it available we had hoped and believed that it would be delivered. The doctors have to make their own decisions.

But I'll put it this way - we hope that they explore all of the options that are available to them.


Are you in a position to make another representation to them on behalf of the family?


Only this morning I have done that.


You did that this morning?


Yes. Only this morning I spoke with one of the Victorian bodies. We can't direct, by law. The doctors have to make their decisions.

What we can do is make available, which working with New South Wales, we've done very collaboratively and they've been wonderful I have to say, they've been wonderful in going way beyond the normal.

But now it's ultimately and only a call for the doctors.

But I would simply say we hope they explore every available opportunity because those opportunities we've made available.


So the decision to say no has come here at Royal North Shore. You've gone to Victoria?


No, it’s- we were talking with one of the clinical advisory teams which is cooperating with them. But we've also worked directly with New South Wales.


And when you spoke to them this morning, did you- what- did you present any argument?


Oh (inaudible) cases we would hope they would explore every opportunity and all of the steps forward because there's no bureaucratic issues here.

It's simply a clinical decision.


That this could either cause harm or there's a breach of ethical obligations or both?


I will respectfully leave that to the doctors.


Have you spoken to the family at all in the wake of that conversation?




Have you spoken to the family in the wake of that conversation?


I’ve been dealing with the family virtually every day. Today, I've come straight here after my conversations.


And what did they say in response to this result?


We'll hear more back. So- I was in contact with the family yesterday and the day before and over the weekend, and I'll be speaking with them late today.


Are you aware of though their response to this result? They must be devastated.


Look, I know that the family is desperate to take any step and again, ultimately, it's a call for the family and the doctors.

But I know that the family, understandably, as any family would be, desperate to take any step. And they've said that they think, as a family, the risks of inaction are greater than the risks of action.


Surely, this has been studied at the RPA, it’s under clinical trial. What can hurt the situation just to try with this man?


I would have to leave that one for the doctors because our task was to work with New South Wales to get access.

And then the task of the doctors is to determine whether or not to provide and if so, how to provide that access.


Does his family- does Mr Roberts have any options left?


Look, again, I will have to leave that with the doctors because we moved heaven and earth, together with New South Wales, to get the access.

Now it's solely, by law, in the hands of the doctors and they’re the ones that ultimately have to make that decision.


Nothing you can do now?


We are doing everything we possibly can. It's been a deep personal passion, a deep personal passion for me.

I have spoken with Mr Roberts’ daughter on a number of occasions, we text virtually every day. And they have been the family you would want around you, and they’ve done everything they can and more.

And equally it's been a deep personal passion and I think we've been fighting to do this but now it’s not a question of governments.

It's ultimately a question of the doctors who as Stephen will attest, by law, are the only people with responsibility.


Minister you must be disappointed with this surely? You’ve just spoken about with your rapport with this family. You can’t not be disappointed.


Oh it's an agony for them and it's been a deeply, deeply troubling for all of us that have tried to provide the access and so we desperately hope, desperately hope that the medical community is able to find a way to provide some form of service because there are no external barriers to that.

Thank you.


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