The Rarer Cancers Foundation has published a progress report on the effect of the Cancer Drugs Fund (the fund) in its first six months of operation, entitled Funding Cancer Drugs: An evaluation of the impact of policies to improve access to cancer treatments.

Although the report reveals that over 2,500 cancer patients have had treatment provided through the fund, the authors also state, controversially, that 187 patients were denied access to allegedly life-extending treatment between October 2010 and March 2011, despite the fact that strategic heath authorities had a combined fund underspend of £22.5 million at the end of March 2011.

Points to note include:  

  • The fund is enabling patients to access up to 34 treatments not routinely available on the NHS.
  • Six out of ten SHAs operate a list of drugs that will be routinely funded. This approach reduces bureaucracy and cost, facilitates speedier decision-making and provides greater certainty for patients and clinicians.
  • The five drugs most commonly requested through the fund were bevacizumab, cetuximab, everolimus, lapatinib and rituximab.
  • The cancers which appear to have benefited most significantly from the policy are bowel cancer, kidney cancer and blood cancers.
  • In total, nearly £27.5 million was spent up to 31 March 2011 (representing 56 per cent of the total allocated funding for the period; factoring in the expected future costs for patients where treatment was initiated before 31 March, this rises to just over £32.5 million and 65 per cent respectively).
  • The proportion of funds used by each SHA varies dramatically. Some used less than a quarter of their allocation while others exceeded it.
  • There were significant variations in the application rate, for example NHS South Central receives two and a half times as many applications as neighbouring NHS South West.
  • There appears to be a north-south divide, with SHAs in the south approving fewer applications, NHS South Central approved approximately 75 per cent of applications whereas NHS North East approved every application received.

The report makes a number of recommendations relating to the timeliness of decision making, the abolition of exclusion lists, development of lists of near-label treatments that will be funded and the provision of timely and accurate data on the operation of the fund. Above all, the report recommends that the DH takes steps to ensure that the end of the fund in 2014 does not represent a backwards step in terms of access to cancer drugs.