“Not much point scientists finding treatments that end up axed and archived”
Thousands of cancer patients will be denied life-prolonging medication after health chiefs decided to axe 21 drugs deemed to expensive for the NHS.
Although the de-listed drugs will remain available for existing patients doctors will be unable to prescribe them for new suffers from March.
The decision has sparked fury among cancer charities and doctors who say thousands will be denied ‘last chance’ medication that can give them extra months, if not years with their loved ones.
Launched in 2011, the £280million-a-year fund has led to around 55,000 patients in England receiving drugs banned on the NHS by rationing body NICE for not being value for money. The Government’s aim – a Tory election pledge – was to enable NHS doctors to prescribe any drug they believed could benefit a cancer patient.
But NHS England, which took over administration of the fund last year, has found 21 drugs – used in a total of 25 treatments – provide ‘insufficient value for money’. Among them are three breast cancer drugs including Halaven, Jevtana used in prostrate cancer, three bowel cancer medications including Avastin and Alimta for lung cancer.
Critics say the UK lags behind Germany, France and Italy in prescribing life-prolonging medicines to cancer patients and the situation will get worse.
Mark Flannagan, chief executive of the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, said: ‘This is bad news for bowel cancer patients. It’s likely that 65 per cent of patients with advanced bowel cancer face the probability of an earlier death by being refused innovative treatments that were available before.
‘These changes are a backward step in treatment for advanced bowel cancer. Doctors will be forced to tell their patients there are treatments that can prolong their lives but they will no longer be available.’
The Rarer Cancers Foundation estimates 7,724 patients a year will lose out.
Chief executive Andrew Wilson said both the drug companies and NHS England ‘bear responsibility for this mess’.
He added: ‘These decisions will be devastating for patients.
‘If the Prime Minister is serious about his promise to cancer patients, he needs to bring together NHS England and the drugs companies to broker a deal to protect access to these drugs before the March deadline when patients will be denied treatment.’
Samia al Qadhi, chief executive at Breast Cancer Care, said: ‘Thousands of breast cancer patients have today been denied the chance of improved quality of life and extra time with their loved ones. This news is devastating for them.
‘The Cancer Drugs Fund is falling apart when there is still no long term solution in place.’
Dr Alison Birtle, consultant clinical oncologist at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said the decision to axe Jevtana was a travesty.
She added: ‘As a doctor who treats men with advanced prostrate cancer, I am deeply saddened and my patients will be devastated by this decision.
‘In my everyday experience, Jevtana has given some men with advanced prostrate cancer extra time. Some of the men that I started to treat with Jevtana three to four years ago are still alive today. Most importantly, this time has been of good quality, allowing them to carry on doing things they enjoy, despite their cancer.’
Professor Peter Clark, chair of the Cancer Drugs Fund, said, ‘We have been thrugh a robust, evidence-based process to ensure the drugs available offer the best clinical benefit, getting the most for patients from every pound.’
But Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said that the fund remains merely a ‘sticking plaster’.
He added: ‘NHS England’s decision is extremely disappointing and a significant blow to the health and wellbeing of future NHS patients.’