It may become tougher for Kiwis to get lifesaving cancer medication, advocates concerned

A review of the Medicines Act could hamper the efforts of Kiwis who obtain cheaper anti-cancer drugs from overseas.

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The Ministry of Health is looking at how people import prescription drugs from overseas. Source: 1 NEWS

It's not clear exactly how many patients import their own medications, but 1 NEWS has spoken to a number of cancer specialists who support their patients by writing prescriptions that are sent overseas and also ensure drugs are cleared if they're held up in customs.

However, the process could be under threat due to changes proposed by the Ministry of Health in a review of the Medicines Act.

In a statement, the ministry says changes are needed due to the level of fake or substandard products in many overseas markets, saying it poses significant safety risks to consumers.

The proposed change would require doctors or pharmacists to import the medication, removing personal responsibility from patients.

But advocates are concerned patients' rights are at risk.

"On the basis that patients are being monitored and being supported by their specialist as per the Medicines Act, they have a right to bring in these treatments," says Philip Hope of the Lung Foundation.

"You have to balance up patient safety against the need to access these drugs which might keep them alive that little bit longer, so that's a difficult position for people to be in when they feel their backs are against the wall," says Cancer Society Medical Director Chris Jackson.

Many will now be anxiously awaiting the outcome of the review.