Access to New Medication to Patients “Faster than Ever” According to the Welsh Government

Wednesday 24th January 2018

After the introduction of a treatment fund costing £80 million pounds, the time between the approval of new medicines and their availability to patients has dramatically reduced, from an estimated 100 days to just 10 days on average.

The treatment fund scheme, which marks its first anniversary this month, originally had set the target at 60 days but within six months new drugs were available to patients within 17 days on average, a figure that has reduced further since.

This fund has allowed for access to new drugs to treat Crohn’s Disease, cystic fibrosis, Gauchers disease, osteoporosis and asthma among several other conditions.

Previous to the treatment fund, concerns had arisen regarding the speed of health boards in providing new treatments after they were given the approval, with funding being somewhat inconsistent.

The initial step remains the same, with the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the All Wales Medicine Strategy Group (AWMSG) being involved in decisions to approve new medicines for use in Wales. The first difference is that health boards have a third of the maximum time they had previously to make a decision and are expected not to wait until the end of an appeal period to start distribution, which cuts a large portion of the time spent between approval and availability. This combined with secured funding allows for rapid turnarounds, which have gotten even quicker over the year of the fund’s existence.

This has also allowed the availability of more drugs to treat rare conditions, such as Fabry Disease. Before the approval of migalastat to treat it, patients would require enzyme replacement therapy every fortnight.

As well as this, a drug that can extend the life expectancy for lung cancer patients has been made widely available in Wales through the same treatment fund. In total, 82 new drugs have been approved under the New Treatment Fund, which includes 20 drugs for treating cancer. These include treatments for head and neck cancer, breast cancer, colon, lung, thyroid and pancreatic cancers.

Part of the effectiveness of the scheme has been its versatility, with money available to treat any condition so long as experts have recommended the treatment as cost-effective.

The scheme comes at a cost of £16m per year for the Welsh government and for all intents and purposes has proven to be a success for Wales and the incumbent Welsh Labour party. First Minister for Wales, Carwyn Jones, noted that the scheme exceeding its initial target is providing a “very real difference” in the lives of people affected by a number of different conditions.

The key to it going forward and continuing to do well is through collaboration and engagement with the pharmaceutical industry, to allow them to prepare for which medicines they will be expected to produce and ensure that the funding required arrives as soon as possible.

For people who have had to face uncertainties about their treatment and even the possibility that their condition isn’t treatable at all, the results can only prove to be positive and reassuring.