Cancer Medication Could Be Axed in NHS Cost-Cutting Movement

Wednesday 2nd September 2015

Within a few days, a new round of cuts to NHS cancer treatments is expected to be announced.

This week, NHS England plans to meet with pharmaceutical companies to discuss whether or not their medicines will stay on the list for the Cancer Drugs Fund.

Currently, the fund allows patients access to 37 drugs that are not regularly available in England through the NHS.

In January, in excess of 20 treatments were restricted or removed in a bid to control an overspend of nearly £100 million.

Manufacturers are now to be told whether the remaining medicines pass the latest benefit assessment and whether they provide value for money.

Cancer charities have warned that more cuts will disallow patients access to treatment that could extend their lives.

An NHS spokesperson said the Cancer Drugs Fund has a limited amount of money and this re-evaluation forms part of a process that makes sure the most effective drugs are included in it.

News of the cuts came when an investigation revealed NHS funding had been spent on satellite navigation systems, horse riding, holidays and even a summer house for patients being treated under the health budgets scheme.

Since the fund was established in 2010, more than 76,000 patients have had their life expectancies extended.

Ben Ashworth is a bowel cancer patient who was given less than twelve months to live before he began treatment with the drug Cetuximab through the fund. More than two years later, two tumours that had spread to his liver have now disappeared and one in his lymph gland has decreased in size. In 17 months, he has run 17 marathons.

Mr Ashworth said the threat to the drug concerned him and ‘made his blood run cold’. He said the idea of other people being denied the medication that has provided him with extra time with his family is shocking.

Pharmaceutical company Roche is the biggest benefactor to the Cancer Drug Fund. It manufactures Avastin, which is the most frequently requested treatment. It also makes Kadcyla, the most expensive drug on the list at nearly £6,000 a month. These drugs extend drugs by a matter of months.

Dr Dan Thurley, medical director at Roche, said that NHS England failed to recognise the significance of these months for the patients.

He said there is a need to think holistically about how society values medicines because that is when the best outcomes are made for patients. He added that the NHS can afford this as a rich country.

From April 2016, the fund is to be overhauled completely, with drugs only allowed to stay on the list if they prove to be effective outside of clinical trials. A public consultation regarding the changes is due to begin this month.