Interview with Carrie Bickmore Channel Ten, The Project
Thursday, 20 April 2017
Topics: Brain cancer funding
Well, Greg Hunt is the Health Minister and he joins us now. Minister, we understand that you’ve spoken to Chloe’s dad, Dustin, this afternoon. What did you have to say to him?
Thanks very much, Carrie. I did speak with Dustin, and as a dad of a 7-year-old I can only imagine just the heartache and challenge that he and his family are going through.
First thing is I think he's about as good a dad as anyone could ever hope to be, or anyone could hope to have. The second thing is Dustin really wanted two things.
One, to see that we've got a commitment to try to increase, and really increase, the survival rate.
And what happened with leukaemia is what we want to do with brain cancer and childhood brain cancer in particular, where in the 60s the leukaemia survival rate was down around 10 per cent, now in Australia, depending on the type, it's up near 80 per cent. So it's taken a long while, but it’s been a dramatic transformation.
The second thing is more funding. And you were right last night, you can't just take from one tragic disease or condition to give to another, there has to be increased funding, and that's what we're going to do.
We will be doubling medical research funding over the next five years, and that includes brain cancer as part of it.
I feel like, Minister, though, it doesn't need a little bit of money, it needs a lot of money. It needs a lot of money over a sustained period of time.
That's a huge commitment. The fact that survival rates haven’t changed in nearly 30 years is because this isn't going to change overnight.
So is the Government prepared to fund this long-term, and how much money are you prepared to put aside?
Well, I think you're absolutely right about long-term funding. So what we will be doing is doubling the medical research funding from $800 million a year with another $800 million over the next five years. So that’s the largest increase in medical research funding.
How much of that will be in the area of brain cancer?
Well, I think it's the scientists themselves that determine it, but there are three big things that I'm working on now. I've only been in the job just over two months, but there are three childhood cancer initiatives.
One is the Childhood Cancer Program, building on the Prime Minister's own announcement in this area a few months ago, the second is more clinical trials, and the third is new treatments, such as proton beam therapy.
I am very hopeful that they will be something that I’m successful, along with the Prime Minister, in securing.
People, such as yourselves, and Dustin, and a grandma in my electorate, Jude Donohue, you've all been fabulous fighters for this.
Now it's our turn to give back, and I think we can do that with those three initiatives and then the overall doubling of medical research, and that should flow through to every one of the major disease areas, such as brain cancer, ovarian cancer, leukaemia, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, things which are each so critical to those who are suffering and those who have family members that are suffering.
The overall funding for cancer intrigues me though, Minister, and maybe you can help me here, because in 2012 the Government spent $192 million on all cancer research through the NHMRC, so that’s the federal body that deals with that health research.
So $192 million in 2012. In 2016, that amount shrunk to $170 million. So that reads like a cut over that period of funding for dealing with cancers generally, and then brain cancer is only getting a very small amount of that. Is that a policy mistake? Will that be reversed?
Well, we're actually doubling funding. We're going from approximately $800 million in the last year, to double that over the course of the next five years. That is going to be the largest growth …
But that’s overall medical research. I’m talking here about the cancer funding pot through the NHMRC.
Well, the allocations are made by the scientists, and it's an international panel of scientists. Depending on the projects, and in any one year you might have slightly more in one area, slightly less in the other, and it depends on the particular projects, but the commitment that I'm making is that we will be doubling medical research over the next half a decade.
That's an extra $800 million-plus and that will be, you know, in proportion for all of the cancers.
And we lose 47,000 Australians a year to cancer, just a terrible loss, and about 1400 of those are to brain cancer.
And in turn, there are two big things we have to do. One, to increase the overall funding, and in particular to individual cancers, but also to new types of treatment that I’ve seen at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, of Peter MacCallum, things such as genetic sequencing, immunotherapy that can work across all cancers, and then also to increase the co-operation, because this is a global challenge.
The survival rates in Australia are at the highest level of anywhere in the world, so we're doing as well as anybody, but we will be able to do better if we co-operate.
And only today I was fortunate to work with that fabulous Australian Andrew Forrest, who is putting together an ending cancer initiative as a global co-operative where different areas will specialise in particular cancers, so really the thing that Carrie and Dustin and others are talking about.
So it's those two things, co-operation, but more funding.
And Minister, we know money doesn't grow on trees but the proof is there that you invest in research, survival rates will come down. And there are not many brain cancer survivors to knock on your door, so we’re all going to do our bit and we will hold you ...
As you should.
Yeah, and we will hold you to that because we don't have a mass group here to make this change, so we need you to stand by that commitment and we really look forward to seeing survival rates come down. Thanks so much for your time.
Can I say, thank you for what you've done.
We appreciate that, thank you very much.