Greg Hunt

Federal Member for Flinders | Minister for Health

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Interview with Allison Langdon - Weekend Today

Monday, 16 April 2018

Topics: Keytruda® listed on the PBS for Hodgkin’s lymphoma; National Health Reform Agreement; Syria

A lifesaving cancer treatment that costs over $200,000 is about to get a whole lot more affordable. From next month patients fighting Hodgkin’s lymphoma will pay less than $40 for a breakthrough drug. Making the announcement today is Health Minister Greg Hunt and he joins me now. A very good morning to you. 

Good morning.

Minister, can you explain to us what this drug is and how it works?

So the drug is Keytruda®. It's a breakthrough immunotherapy. In other words it helps take the body's own immune system and fight back against the cancer. Until now it's been over $200,000 for a course of treatment for patients with Hodgkin's lymphoma. That will now drop as of 1 May to $6.40 or $39.50. So a drug that was out of the reach of virtually every Australian will now be in the reach of virtually every Australian.

Delta Goodrem suffered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is probably how most Australians know about it. But how common is it?

GREG HUNT:          
Correct. So what we see is that this drug is likely to help over 120 patients a year. From the whole lymphoma world we have about 6000 patients who contract it a year. This is for those that are at a later stage of a particular type of lymphoma, Hodgkin's lymphoma. 

But all up what we're doing is bringing new drugs on board that are lifesaving and life changing, whether it's for lung cancer, whether it's for kidney cancer. Today it's Hodgkin's lymphoma. But these new drugs offer a dramatically greater chance of survival and of improved lives and this is just another example.

Minister, just on another issue now. South Australia and the ACT have come on board and agreed to your health funding deal. But you still have four states or territories that are refusing to sign up, they want a larger chunk of money. How confident are you of getting them to sign up?

GREG HUNT:          
Look I'm very confident that we'll just work constructively with each of the states and territories. We weren't expecting to be at this point for another year so we're well ahead of schedule. We already have New South Wales and Western Australia, now we have the ACT and South Australia, two Labor, two Liberal, and we're in a very good position with many of the other states and territories. 

What it actually means, though, of course is better funding for patients, better funding for hospitals. It's an additional $30 billion but it's not the money, it's about waiting times, better treatments and people ultimately being able to have better health. 

Well this five-year deal starts in 2020, what happens if you can't reach an agreement with those states and territories?

GREG HUNT:          
It's up to each state and territory. What we're doing is offering them more money in return for better treatment, better reforms and those reforms…

But what if happens if they don't agree to this deal?

GREG HUNT:          
…are good for patients. They're also good for the system. Well, that will be something we'll deal with in 2020. But I am very confident that all of the states and territories will ultimately say yes to significantly more funding. 

As I say $30 billion of more funding. And those states that have signed up will already be able to access funds for innovation or other supporting activities. So they're guaranteed their funds, no matter what.

Now just very quickly to finish. The US lead strike on Syria yesterday, I mean Australia was obviously briefed but not involved. Can you see Australia being dragged into a possible future conflict here?

GREG HUNT:          
No, nobody's planning on a ground war within Syria. What's happened here is an act of absolute butchery and infamy, a chemical weapons attack on a civilian population has rightly drawn a proportionate but swift and decisive international response. 

Let me say this. Assad is a butcher. His regime is murderous and tyrannical and these responses say that the international community will not tolerate the fiction that no such chemical weapon attack occurred and we'll respond to breaches of international law, war crimes, crimes against humanity and this is the right thing to do because it sends a message that we will stand up for international law and stand against butchers and war criminals.

But if President Trump was to ask Australia to provide military assets moving forward, would that be something you'd consider?

GREG HUNT:          

Look, there is no prospect as far as I'm aware of any ground war in relation to Syria. In relation to matters with regards to air combat I'll leave that for the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.

Okay, Minister Greg Hunt, thanks for your time this morning.

Thanks very much. 


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