20,000 Cancer Patients to Be Denied access to Life-Extending Drugs under NHS Reforms
Charities in the UK accuse health officials of setting cancer treatment back a decade, as new system of drug funding is announced, and say that in excess of 20,000 cancer patients annually could be denied access to life-extending drugs under the new NHS reforms.
The flagship fund was launched by David Cameron to pay for expensive pioneering treatment, and is being overhauled after overspending by £130 million last year.
Health officials said the new system would mean quicker access to drugs, and better testing of treatments to see which are most effective, but many charities say that the reforms of the Cancer Drugs Fund will restrict funding, and set back cancer treatment by up to a decade.
Breast cancer experts said the new system was an “indefensible relapse” while bowel cancer charities said ending such treatments would break personal pledges made by the Prime Minister.
Announcing the new system, NHS England said new drugs which show “genuine promise” will receive funding for up to two years while they are being evaluated, after which they will be assessed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence which will then rule on whether they should receive routine funding in future.
All 47 drugs currently paid for under the central fund will now be re-evaluated. Experts fear that half of them will be axed under the new system, since Nice has previously rejected 23 of the treatments as not “cost-effective” in draft or final guidance .
Under the current proposals, it is unlikely that these treatments would qualify for entry to the new CDF, it said.
The Rarer Cancers Foundation said almost 22,000 patients could lose out each year due to the changes.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, head of Breast Cancer Now, said: “The current CDF proposals unfortunately represent a major relapse for patient access to breast cancer drugs in the UK. It is indefensible that the CDF’s long-awaited successor may actually result in fewer – rather than more – drugs being made available to patients.”
Andrew Wilson, chief executive of the Rarer Cancers Foundation, said: “The Government needs to come clean about the impact that these reforms will have. There is a danger that these half-baked proposals could turn back the clock on cancer treatment, returning the NHS to the bad old days where the majority of new treatments are denied to the people who need them the most.”
Mark Flannagan, Chief Executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, said he was “very concerned” about the plans.
“Unless NICE decision-making criteria are changed, the new system will have a detrimental effect on patient care in England, with treatment for bowel cancer regressing ten years,” he said.
Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Cancer Research UK welcomes today’s decision to move forward with reforms to how the NHS makes certain cancer drugs available to patients. We see this as a positive step in creating a more sustainable and flexible system. “Importantly, we believe the proposals will bring more certainty to patients and doctors about the drugs that can be prescribed, and swifter access to promising drugs.”
A spokesman for NHS England said: “The CDF has helped thousands of people and we are determined to respond to the demands of parliament, and the cancer care community, that we put it on a sustainable footing for the future.
“Under these measures, patients will get faster access to the most promising new cancer treatments and taxpayers will get better value from drugs expenditure. Drug companies will need to price their drugs responsibly and we make no apology for maintaining the pressure on this point on behalf of the public.”
He said it was not fair to say that 22,000 patients would be denied drugs because the figure included patients who had lost access to drugs during changes made in the last year.