Denied Access: Why Australian cancer patients are going overseas for medical cancer treatments

Denied Access: Why Australian cancer patients are going overseas for medical cancer treatments


Cancer patients who are terminally ill are having a hard time in Australia trying to access various treatment options through the country’s medical system. Many of these treatments or therapies have been rejected for subsidies leaving patients no choice but to travel overseas to access these facilities.

Even this only holds true for those individuals who have been successful in raising enough funds to finance their trip abroad while the majority have to resort to extreme measures like putting up their residences for sale, selling off other assets or turning to family members for financial support. When these measures are not enough, patients have been known to arrange charity balls and similar events to procure the much needed funding.

Many of the drugs in question are available under subsidised healthcare programs in different parts of the world, but Australian patients are being denied that opportunity. Instead they have to pay astronomical price tags associated with the drugs or else go without them at all. Where applicable, the process of applying for subsidised treatment can easily take up to two years which is too long a time for those who are already at a life threatening stage of cancer.

To remediate the situation there is an urgent need to push for a fund that can support cancer drug access to patients. The drug subsidy approval system is in need of modifications that can expedite the process of making life saving treatments available to patients in good time.

Based on the model of the UK style cancer drug fund, Cancer Drugs Alliance of the Australian medical community is looking to set up a similar structure where a funding pool may be provided to patients which facilities access to cancer medication during the time approval remains pending.

The scheme set up in 2011 in the UK allowed 34,000 cancer patients to quickly receive around thirty life altering medications with support from two hundred million pounds. This allowed thousands of cancer patients to secure timely intervention to treat their condition. Such ready availability is now luring multiple Australian cancer patients to seek their treatments elsewhere.

To get approval for more medications to be subsidised, the cost effectiveness of medicines must be measured not only by the health benefits offered by also by the social and economic benefits secured when patients receive timely treatment, says Jean Mossman, a British cancer patient advocate. When seen in the larger picture the cost effectiveness of such treatment options can be assessed making it more likely to get them subsidised.

Social costs incurred in terms of caregivers taking time off work, loss of wages, shorter work hours for both the patient and caregiver only result in economic losses. On the other hand, timely treatment of the disease can prevent these losses.

Clinicians and patients are both frustrated and depressed calling the situation as totally absurd where the only option for many is to either forgo the drugs altogether or else use up their entire savings and assets to travel elsewhere to seek the right treatment.


1) Cancer patients denied 30 medicines available overseas: