NHS England has announced that the number of life-extending cancer therapies available for funding from the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) will be reduced from 84 to 59, with effect from April 2015. The announcement follows a review by NHS England aimed at addressing the CDF's overspend.
The CDF was an election pledge of Prime Minister David Cameron, set up in 2011 as a £200 million a year fund to pay for expensive end-of-life cancer treatments which were not recommended for routine reimbursement on the NHS due to their cost. However, due to high demand for the drugs, the CDF spend was on course to rise to £380 million by the end of the financial year. As a result of the decision to pare it down, it is expected that the CDF will now rise to only £340 million per year.
Cancer charities have been critical of the decision, saying that the withdrawal of the drugs in question will harm patients. Samia al Qadhi, chief executive of Breast Cancer Care said "The Cancer Drugs Fund is falling apart when there is still no long-term solution in place…Without a sustainable system that works, cancer patients will continue to be denied access to vital treatment". Industry representatives have echoed this message, with Stephen Whitehead of the Association of the British Pharmaceuticals Industry saying the decision was "extremely disappointing and a significant blow to the health and wellbeing of future NHS patients".
NHS England has defended the decision as essential to ensure financial sustainability of the CDF, pointing to the substantial savings now set to be made, some of which arise from certain drug companies agreeing to reduce prices in anticipation of their treatments otherwise being cut.
The fund has been the subject of some controversy since its inception. Critics have argued that the CDF results in valuable resources being used on drugs that NICE (England's health technology appraisal body) has found are not cost effective, unfairly favouring cancer patients over those with other serious diseases.