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Government pledges an additional £50m to fund ‘innovative’ cancer drugs

By Lilian Anekwe

Ministers have announced that ‘clinically-led regional panels' will decide which cancer patients get access to newer treatments, and pledged to provide an additional £50m to end the ‘scandal' of lack of funding.

During the general election the Conservatives promised to make a £200m fund available to fund special requests for cancer drugs to either extend their lives of patients with cancer, or to improve their quality of life.

A Department of Health-commissioned report by cancer tsar Professor Mike Richards, published this week, shows the UK lags behind several other countries, including France, Spain and the US, in the usage of cancer drugs, particular newer drugs.

The DH insist that their plans to introduce value-based pricing for medicines once the current Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS) expires in 2014 will free up resources that can be spent on additional funding for cancer drugs in the longer term.

But as an ‘interim measure' ministers have pledged that £50m of additional money will be available to fund thousands of requests for cancer drugs from October 2010, in a pilot scheme ahead of the launch of the fully-fledged cancer fund in April 2011, subject to the outcome of the Spending Review.

Announcing the fund, the Department of Health's minister for quality Lord Howe said: ‘The £50m will help regional groups of cancer specialists to decide how best money should be spent for their patients. Access to that funding will be decided by these doctors, but we envisage that the emphasis will be where there are requests for treatments that have not been appraised by NICE.'

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: 'It's a scandal that we are strong in cancer research and participation in clinical trials in the UK, yet NHS patients aren't always seeing the benefits from the research swiftly enough.'

'Patients should have access to innovative cancer drugs that can extend or improve their quality of life and which their doctors have recommended, which is why I'm determined to take action now.'

But care services minister Paul Burstow denied that the fund would be used to overrule NICE decisions – or that it could lead to postcode lotteries.

‘This is not about undermining NICE. Thousands more people will get access to drugs that hitherto they would have been denied, even through the exceptional requests process. If a region has surplus finding available then there should be a mechanism for transferring that surplus to an area in need.'

‘But PCTs should continue to operate their exceptional requests process. This is additional funding and does not absolve PCTs of their responsibilities to consider requests for exceptional funding.'

Nigel Edwards, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said they system would only work ‘if it does not create an additional layer of bureaucracy'.

‘There will always be exceptional cases where a doctor believes a patient will benefit from a new cancer drug that NICE is considering but has not yet issued guidance on or has considered but not recommended for routine use,' he said.

‘At present, clinicians and patients in this position can appeal to a local PCT exceptional case panel. Today's announcement means people whose appeal to their PCT is turned down can approach a regional SHA panel with access to the £50 million fund.'

Cancer patients are to bee given greater access to 'innovative' drugs as the result of the new £50 million fund Cancer patients are to bee given greater access to 'innovative' drugs as the result of the new £50 million fund